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Women are at increased risk of cervical cancer if they had sexual intercourse at an early age, have multiple sexual partners, had sexually transmitted infections, used oral contraceptive pills long term, smokes cigarettes, low immunity and HIV infections.
Sexually active women should have to screen from age 25 using the PAP smear at least once every 3 years. Annual screening would have a higher detection rate as compared to every 3 years. There is no need to screen after age 69 if previous smears have been negative. There are 2 forms of PAP smears presently available. The conventional dry smear and the liquid based cytology. The latter has higher detection for cervical cancer although at a higher cost. Another screening test is HPV DNA testing and has recently been approved by the FDA.
Cervical cancer is a cancer of the cervix, which the lower part of the uterus. The cervix connects the uterine cavity, the top part of the uterus, to the vagina. The cervical canal is a passage through which sperm must travel to fertilise an egg after sexual intercourse.
Cervical cancer can often be prevented by having regular screening to detect any precancer cells and initiate treatment. Prevention of precancers is possible by controlling possible risk factors, including but not limited to:
- Delaying first sexual intercourse until the late teens or older
- Limiting the number of sex partners
- Avoiding sexual intercourse with people who have had many partners
- Avoiding sexual intercourse with people who are obviously infected with genital warts or show other symptoms
- Quitting smoking
Our specialists at SMG Women’s Health recommend that women who are sexually active get screened for cervical cancer starting at age 25 using the PAP smear method, at least once every 3 years.
The Pap test, or pap smear, has been the most common test for detecting early changes in cells that can lead to cervical cancer. A Pap test involves gathering a sample of cells from the cervix and is often done at the same time as a pelvic exam.
During a pelvic exam, one of our SMG Women’s Health O&G specialists will check a woman’s body for any unusual changes regarding her cervix, uterus, vagina, ovaries, and other nearby organs. To start, the doctor will look for any changes to the woman’s vulva outside the body. Then, using an instrument called a speculum to keep the vaginal walls open, the doctor will look inside the woman’s body. Some of the nearby organs are not visible during this exam, so the doctor will then insert two fingers inside the woman’s vagina while the other hand gently presses on the lower abdomen to feel the uterus and ovaries.
This exam typically takes a few minutes.
The most important risk factor for developing cervical cancer is infection with HPV. It is now possible to test for the HPV types (high-risk or carcinogenic) most likely to cause cervical cancer by looking for pieces of the HPV DNA in cervical cells. The test can be done at the same time as the Pap smear test, with the same swab or a second swab. This HPV DNA testing was approved by the FDA in 2014 as the first HPV DNA test that can be used as a standalone test for high-risk HPV.