Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix, which connects uterus to the vagina. It is most common amongst women over 30 years of age. The best way to prevent cervical cancer is by having regular pap tests, wherein changes in cells of cervix is being monitored.
Cell change does not necessarily mean that one will have cervical cancer. Contrary, it helps to prevent occurrence of cervical cancer, if gets detected early. With regular pap tests and pelvic exams, cervical cancer is preventable and curable.
Screening Tests For Prevention Or Early Detection
A pelvic examination is done to make sure that all pelvic organs (ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes) are healthy. It helps to diagnose infections that may cause pelvic pain, vaginal discharge or infertility.
In case of any such infection, a regular pelvic exam should be done to detect and treat the infection early and prevent extending it to cancerous state. Pelvic exam includes Pap test that can prevent or detect early stages of cervical cancer, when it is easily curable.
A pap smear is done wherein the cervix cells are smeared onto a microscope slide using soft brush to check for any morphological changes of the cells that could be just normal or initiating towards cervical cancer development.
Before reaching to cancerous state, the cervix cells undergo transformation called as dysplasia, condition where abnormal cells also start appearing within the cervical tissue. These cells grow over the time and spread further into the cervix and adjoining areas causing cervical cancer. Hence, regular pap test is being recommended to prevent cervical cancer.
Every woman or teenager should start having regular Pap tests 3 years after the first sexual intercourse. Even in absence of any sexual activity, pap testing must be done after age of 21 years. Pap test should be regularly performed every 3 years or early in case of any cell changes in the cervix.
Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection is the key risk factor for development of cervical cancer. Most women suffering from cervical cancer possess Human papilloma virus infection, but not every woman with HPV infection necessarily develops a cervical cancer.
Many different strains of HPV exist that may affect the cervix but only few of them actually lead to formation of cancerous cells causing cervical cancer. Some HPV infections are self limiting and one can get away with these without any treatment. HPV infections mainly spread through sexual contact. Women with sexually active lives at a young age and those with many sexual partners possess greater risk for HPV infections.
On obtaining positive Pap test results, HPV DNA test is performed to analyze and check if cervical cancer is due to HPV infection. This helps the physician to do the treatment accordingly and cure it.
For women in age groups 30 or above, both HPV DNA test and the Pap test are done to screen for HPV infection. Amongst women below 30 years of age, HPV infections if present usually do not last long or cause cancer but if follow up visits still show HPV infection, then pap test should be done to rule out the development of cervical cancer.