Because of the asymptomatic nature of cervical cancer, diagnosis and screening is pretty hard. The only way to keep the disease at bay is by being vigilant, being aware and through regular screening tests like the PAP smear and HPV test.
What’s a Pap smear?
Papanicolaou (Pap) Smear is a test used to detect cancerous cells in the cervix early. It also helps detect pre-cancerous conditions. The test is usually conducted during a pelvic exam. During a Pap smear, a cell sample from the cervix is taken with a small wooden spatula or brush and examined under the microscope. If the results are normal, no further evaluation is recommended
When should you first get screened?
It is advisable to have a Pap test every two years starting at age 21. Abnormal results from a Pap smear do not necessarily indicate cancer. Other conditions such as inflammation and sexually transmitted diseases can also cause abnormal changes in cells. If you have abnormal Pap test results, your doctor will suggest other tests to make a diagnosis.
Frequency of Pap tests:
Talk to your doctor about what age to begin testing, how often to be tested and when you can stop.In general, the guidelines are:
- If you’re younger than 21: Have your first Pap test at age 21. Repeat every 2 years. If you are 30 years and older and have had three normal Pap tests in a row, you can then have one every 3 years.
- If you are older than 65 with normal Pap test results, you may not need any further tests. Discuss this with your doctor.
- If your cervix has been removed as part of a hysterectomy and the surgery was not due to cancer, you may not need further Pap tests.
HPV Test is used as a follow-up to abnormal changes detected with a Pap smear. The HPV test is used as a follow up in case of abnormal changes detected by a Pap smear. It’s recommend for all women under 30 and over 21.
Some other tests common tests include:
- Colposcopy: The colposcope has a bright light with a magnifying lens and is used by the doctor to look more closely at the cells of the vagina and cervix. It is not inserted into the vagina.
- Biopsy: A tissue sample from the lining of the uterus is removed under local anaesthesia and checked under a microscope for abnormal cells. This procedure may cause some bleeding or discharge. Some women feel some pain similar to menstrual cramps. The area usually heals quickly.
- Chest X-rays, CT scan, MRI and PET (positron emission tomography) scan may be used to determine the stage of cervical cancer and its spread to other parts of the body.
Cervical cancer kills over 33,000 Indian women every year and the only way to prevent it is proper diagnosis, treatment and awareness.