Though more than 4,000 American women die each year from cervical cancer, this number was once much higher, despite the smaller population in years past. About 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer are discovered every year, but due to early detection, it’s a very survivable disease.
The key to the changing mortality surrounding this type of cancer is the Pap smear, a cancer screening test developed in the 1940s. The Pap smear detects changes in the cells of the cervix that indicate cancer is on the way, and since cervical cancer is slow to progress, it’s easy to treat before it becomes life threatening.
How cervical cancer develops
Certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) are the culprits behind cervical cancer. Many versions of HPV are benign and usually handled well by your immune system. HPV has no symptoms, so you probably won’t know you have it. Nor does having HPV mean that cervical cancer will develop. It’s not fully understood why sometimes HPV causes cervical cancer while other times it doesn’t, so that and the fact that it has no symptoms in the early stages makes getting screened with a Pap smear critical.
Precancerous changes to the cervix
Even before cervical cancer starts, there are changes to some cells that indicate the disease is forming. Fortunately, the Pap test can detect these changes, meaning that you have a chance to treat and defeat cancer before it even starts. That’s why deaths from cervical cancer have dropped so dramatically since the acceptance of Pap testing into mainstream women’s health care.
The Pap smear procedure
A Pap smear brushes a small sample of tissue from your cervix, the lower portion of the uterus that connects to your vagina. This collected tissue is then processed in a medical lab to detect cellular irregularities which could be precursors to cervical cancer. The test is quick and painless, and is easily performed during your pelvic exam. Your caregivers here at Progressive Womens Health advise you when to expect test results, and depending on those results, we let you know what your next steps will be.
When to have Pap smears
All sexually active women 21-65 should be screened regularly for cervical cancer with a Pap smear. Annual tests during a well-woman exam are common, particularly if you have certain risk factors. Some women may not require a Pap test every year, but this is a decision you should make in conversation with Dr. Mohsin, based on your current health and medical history, including any family history that includes cervical cancer.
There’s no question that Pap smears dramatically improve your chances of surviving cervical cancer through early detection, and the test may help you avoid ever reaching a cancerous stage.
For continued good health, regular Pap tests are an essential part of every woman’s health regimen. If you’re due for your regular testing, contact our office in Friendswood, Texas, by phone or online, to arrange an exam and Pap smear at your earliest convenience.