Why Cervical Cancer Screening Is Important

Published on 08/21/20

There are already so many reasons to visit a doctor. Whether it be for check-ups, symptoms you’re experiencing, or just a routine that has to develop at certain ages. 

And for many women, routine appointments at their OB/GYN are part of their annual health checkup…. But what’s so important about these check ups? Why is it recommended that women visit their OB/GYN routinely even when there is seemingly no reason?

Every year, over 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Although cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers to date. Routine checkups with your OB/GYN can help with early detection and treatment of newly present abnormal cells. 

How Cervical Cancer Screening Helps With Early Detection

Detecting cervical cancer starts by looking for abnormal cells or changes in cells that occur in the cervix years before cervical cancer actually develops. 

The cervix is the opening to the uterus, located at the top of the vagina. The cells that change within the cervix is where doctors use tests like the Pap Smear or HPV (human papillomavirus) test to detect cancer early on. 

When cells become abnormal or out of control, they invade deeper into the tissue within the cervix which can lead to the spread into other organs. 

Cervical cancer is most commonly caused by HPV which is an infection that enters the cells and causes change. HPV is transmitted from person to person during intercourse. It is common that most people will get an HPV infection in their lifetime. In a lot of instances, HPV infections will go away on their own and only infect a few cells which causes mild changes. However, in some women, the infection never goes away and causes risk for more severe changes in cervical cells which can lead to cancer. 

Guidelines for Cervical Cancer Screening

The American Cancer Society released guidelines for the prevention and early detection for cervical cancer. They recommend following list of prevention tips in addition to following up with routine checkups with their healthcare team:

  • Screening should begin at the age of 25
  • Between the ages of 25 to 65 a primary HPV test should be screened for every 5 years or a Pap Test every 3 years. 
  • Screening should continue even after childbirth
  • People who’ve had a hysterectomy, or removal of the uterus and cervix, can stop screening for cervical cancer unless the hysterectomy was due to pre-cancer, or cervical cells
  • People who have had the HPV vaccination should also still get screened following the same guidelines. 

Screening regularly for cervical cancer cells with tests like the Pap Smear have decreased the number in cases and deaths since 1950. Cervical cancer develops slowly over time and therefore, can be detected early when the cells go through what is called dysplasia. This means cells start to develop abnormally in the cervical tissue where cancer later starts to grow and spread. 

Tests Should Be Routine

Tests can be recommended even when a patient doesn’t show any symptoms. Just because your doctor recommends a screening doesn’t necessarily mean you are showing signs of cervical cancer. 

During a routine Pap smear, cells are collected from the cervix and are checked for infections linked to cervical cancer. Infections like HPV, which can later cause cervical cancer, don’t need a pap smear to detect. Women older than 30 generally get tested with both a Pap Smear and HPV test every 5 years using an HPV DNA test. 

For women younger than 21 and older than 65 or have had a hysterectomy, are unlikely to show abnormal cells, therefore unlikely to have an abnormal pap smear. 

When the cells are removed and collected from the cervix with a brush or other sampling equipment, the cells are put into a special liquid and sent to a lab for testing. 

  • A Pap test examines the sample for abnormal cells
  • A HPV test is tested for the presence of up to 14 of the most common high-risk HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer.

Women who have a history of HPV, HIV or weakened immune system, cervical cancer, and exposure to DES (diethylstilbestrol) before birth, may not have to follow these exact guidelines and may need to have more frequent screening to keep prevention high. This also includes women who have had vaccinations against HPV. Following the guidelines are highly recommended because the vaccination isn’t a fool-proof prevention plan. 

If your cervix has been removed this may not apply to you, however, even with a hysterectomy screening for cervical cancer is still necessary if your cervix was also not removed in the process. Cervical cells are still present within the cervix and are subject to change abnormally just as a regular patient. It is suggested that screening continue up to 20 years after your surgery. 

Results

Test results can take up to three weeks to be ready. If something comes back abnormal in your test results, your doctor may schedule a follow-up appointment. There are several reasons a test may come back abnormal and doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer. At times, tests can come back with a “false-positive”, or a “false-negative” which is one of the many risks that come with these types of screening. It’s imperative that you avoid intercourse, vaginal medications, or hygiene products to ensure your results are as accurate as possible.

Your doctor will work with you to follow up on the results and what they might mean. With early detection, treatment will help prevent further development of cancer cells and keep the chance of developing cervical cancer low. 

Call Rosh Maternal & Fetal Medicine In NYC for Cancer Screenings

Routine cancer screening detects disease at the earliest possible stage. Cervical cancer is the only gynecologic cancer with a screening test that’s recommended for all women, but you can still be screened for other cancers.

The doctors at Rosh Maternal & Fetal Medicine can perform cancer screening for all types of gynecologic cancer using various diagnostic procedures. If you experience symptoms like vaginal bleeding or pelvic pain, call their office in the Midtown East area of New York City, or schedule an appointment online.