Cervical Cancer Screening
Cervical cancer is screened for by collecting a PAP smear. The cervix is the lowest most portion of the uterus, and is visible from inside the vagina with the use of a speculum. A sample of the cervical cells are collected by using a small spatula or brush, they are then examined under the microscope to look for abnormalities. Cells go through a series of changes before they become cancer, therefore with regular screening it is possible to catch the progression of disease before cancer is present and prevent cancer formation.
Cervical cancer screening should begin at age 21. With normal results testing should be every 2 years until age 29, and if remain normal may be spaced out further after that time. Women ages 65-70 with normal pap smears for 10 years may discontinue screening. It may be possible to discontinue screening after a hysterectomy. This decision is based on your gynecologic medical history.
Cellular abnormalities on the cervix that lead to cancer are caused by the HPV virus. This virus is sexually transmitted and may lead to cervical cancer as well as genital warts. The HPV virus is prevalent, and up to 80% of women are exposed in their lifetime. Two vaccines are currently available to reduce the risk of acquiring high risk HPV virus, and therefore reduce the risk of cervical cancer. Vaccination is recommended to girls between the ages of 9-26 and should ideally be administered before the onset of sexual activity. New recommendations support administration to young boys as well to prevent the spread of the virus.