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Health column: Pap test important in catching cervical cancer early

in Health/News

About 13,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer are diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

The good news: cervical pre-cancers are diagnosed far more often than invasive cervical cancer, thanks to increased screening with the Pap test. The Pap test can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops and detect cervical cancer in its early stages, when the disease is most curable.

Here are three facts you should know about cervical cancer from the American Cancer Society:

  1. There are usually no symptoms. Left undetected, cervical cancer was once a major cause of death for American women – especially because there are usually no symptoms. The best way to find cervical cancer early is to have a regular screening with a Pap test. Being alert to any signs and symptoms of cervical cancer can also help avoid unnecessary delays in diagnosis.

    John Oglesby
  1. Several risk factors increase the risk of developing cervical cancer. The most important risk factor for cervical cancer is infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a group of more than 150 viruses. Other risk factors include smoking, having a weakened immune system, being overweight and having a family history of cervical cancer.
  1. Early detection greatly improves the chances of successful treatment. Today, a test to detect HPV is often used as a follow-up when abnormalities are detected on a Pap smear. The same test can also be used as a screening method on its own. In one recent study, this test to detect HPV was shown to be nearly twice as effective as the Pap test in detecting early cervical cancer. Anti-cancer vaccines have been found effective in preventing the two strains of HPV most frequently found in cervical cancer. Your primary doctor or gynecologist often can do the tests needed to diagnose pre-cancers and cancers and may also be able to treat pre-cancer.

But how often should women get screened for signs of cervical cancer?

The latest guidelines set by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommend:

  • Women ages 21 to 29 years get screened for cervical cancer every three years with cervical cytology alone.
  • Women ages 30 to 65 years get screened every three years with cervical cytology alone, every five years with high-risk human papillomavirus (hrHPV) testing alone, or every five years with hrHPV testing in combination with cytology (co-testing). 

John Oglesby, MD, is a board-certified obstetrics/gynecology specialist with Ascension Medical Group at Weston. For more information or to schedule an appointment,  call 715-393-3909 or visit ascension.org/wisconsin.

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