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Once the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States, cervical cancer now has a 92 percent five-year survival rate for cases caught early. Getting screened according to guidelines increases the chances for early diagnosis and for successful treatment. Here’s what you need to know about Pap tests and cervical cancer screenings.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 91 percent of cervical cancer cases are caused by high-risk strains of human papillomavirus (HPV)—the most common sexually transmitted disease.
“HPV and cervical cancer patients don’t necessarily experience symptoms, which is why screening is so important” said Benjamin DiJoseph, D.O, OBGYN at Inspira Medical Group and Residency Program Director at Inspira Medical Center Vineland. “Routine screening can help detect cancer years before symptoms may surface.”
“There are two effective methods for cervical cancer screening: the Pap test and the HPV test,” said Dr. DiJoseph. “A Pap test looks for abnormal cells that may develop into cervical cancer, whereas an HPV test can detect the HPV virus that can cause cells to change into cancer,” said Dr. DiJoseph.
The Latest Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines
The latest guidelines from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the CDC indicate that you should start getting Pap tests at age 21. If your test result is normal, your doctor may recommend you wait three years until getting tested again.
Between 30 and 65, your doctor may recommend various tests, including:
- Just a Pap test. If your result is normal, your doctor may recommend you wait three years until getting tested again.
- Just an HPV test. If your result is normal, your doctor may recommend you wait five years until getting tested again.
- Both a Pap test and an HPV test, called co-testing. If your results are normal for both tests, your doctor may recommend you wait five years until getting tested again.
If you are older than 65, you may not need to be screened anymore if you’ve had normal screening results for several years, or if you’ve had your cervix removed.
What Does an Abnormal Test Mean?
Most screenings that show “abnormal cells” are not cancer. Cervical cells can change and go back to normal on their own. But it is important to follow up.
“You shouldn't panic if you get an abnormal test, but you do need to talk to your doctor about follow-up tests,” said Dr. DiJoseph.
Your doctor may recommend another cancer screening to detect “high-grade changes,” which are abnormal cells that could become cancer. If those are detected, your doctor may recommend treatment or follow-up screenings.
“Cervical cancer rates are decreasing, all thanks to our screening tools like Pap tests and HPV tests,” said Dr. DiJoseph. “It’s important to follow guidelines to get screened regularly so these rates continue to decrease.”
If you’re uninsured or underinsured, you may qualify for a free cervical cancer screening through the NJ Cancer and Early Education and Detection (NJCEED) program. To find a women’s health care provider near you, click here.