Cancer of the cervix is the most common genital cancer among women worldwide. The best way to detect cervical cancer is by having regular Pap smears. A Pap smear is a microscopic examination of cells taken from the uterine cervix.
A Pap smear can detect certain viral infections such as human papilloma virus (HPV), that is known to cause cervical cancer.
Risks factors for cancer of the cervix include the following:
- Multiple sexual partners (or sexual partners who have had multiple partners)
- Starting sexual intercourse at an early age
- Weakened immune system
- Previous cancer of the lower genital tract
Cervical cancer screening by PAP smear is now recommended every 3 years starting at age 21. Screening may be carried out every 5 years for women over age 30 if a Pap smear and HPV test are performed.
Women over age 65 or older who have had three or more normal Pap tests in a row and no abnormal Pap test results in the last 10 years may choose to stop having Pap tests.
A negative or normal test finding means that the cervix looks healthy. All the cells are of a healthy size and shape.
A positive or abnormal test finding means that there is something unusual in the sample. The test found cells of a different size and shape.
An abnormal Pap smear result does not always indicate cancer. Cells sometimes appear abnormal but are not cancerous. The woman will have to return to the doctor for follow-up care.
- An infection of the cervix may cause an abnormal test result. A yeast, trichomonas, chlamydial, or gonorrheal infection can cause the cervical cells to appear inflamed. If the Pap smear result is positive because of an infection, the underlying cause should be treated. The test should then be repeated in 2-3 months, because cancer of the cervix can be hidden by an infection. After the infection is treated, the Pap smear result usually returns to normal.
A check-up with a doctor is necessary.
A vaccine is now available to prevent HPV infection,