Cervical cancer screening checks for cancer of the cervix. The cervix, being the opening to the uterus (womb). Cervical cancer is caused by Human Papilloma virus (HPV) in majority of the cases. When you visit your doctor, screening methods used for cervical cancer screening depends on age and risk factors. Your screening test may involve a Pap (Papanicolaou) which tests cervical cells for abnormalities that can lead to cancer or you may have a Pap test with HPV testing included. There are vaccines for HPV (Gardasil and Cervarix ) that can offer protection against HPV infection. While the chances of getting cervical cancer has been greatly reduced by screening and HPV vaccines, it is important that all women between ages 21 and 65 get tested regularly for HPV to avoid having to endure major surgery for cervical cancer later in life.
Your doctor will put an instrument called a speculum into the vaginal canal. This will allow your doctor to see your cervix (the opening to your womb or uterus) to see and inspected. A small cervical tool called a cyto-brush will be used to brush cells from your cervix. The sample is then sent to a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing diseases at a cellular level. (Pathologist). Your Gynecologist will then use the information provided by the Pathologist, along with your personal history and health to formulate a plan for your cervical health.
For patients who have normal Pap and no HPV infection, screening every 3-5 years is sufficient. Most Gynecologists will recommend that you have testing every 3 years. This does not mean however that you have to wait 3 years to see your Gyn doctor. Routine annual check ups are still recommended for you to check in and discuss any problems you have been ignoring over the year.
Abnormal Pap results are fairly common and may be due to a variety of reasons. The Pap tests is able to identify infections that cause inflammation on the cervix such as BV (Bacterial Vaginosis) and yeast infections. It can detect Trichamonas. If you are using hormonal contraception or birth control such as OCPs or Mirena IUD, your pap may be abnormal changes caused by these medications that do not end up causing cancer. What is most important is that you stay in close contact with your doctor to determine what steps to take to secure your health and avoid serious problems later.
Most of the abnormal test results are due to precancerous changes to the cervix. Most likely you do not have cervical cancer yet. However, it is very important that you follow up with your doctor to get the necessary follow up testing and treatment to prevent progression to cervical cancer. If your test is abnormal, you may need a Cryotherapy, Colposcopy, or LEEP procedure done. Your gynecologist will guide you as to what steps to take and ensure you address the problem in the best way.
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