Although 570,000 women throughout the world are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, routine screenings can help catch cervical cancer in its earliest stages. In honor of National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, board-certified OB/GYN Karen Allsup, FACOG, MD, wants to take this time to highlight the role of Pap smears in fighting cervical cancer.
Read on to learn more about what your routine Pap smear can do for you.
Cervical cancer originates in the cells of your cervix, the lower part of your uterus. In many cases, it is caused by persistent infection with certain high-risk strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). While HPV is common, not all infections lead to cervical cancer. Regular Pap tests help identify abnormal cell changes early on and allow for timely intervention and prevention of cervical cancer.
A Pap smear, also known as a Pap test or a Papanicolaou test, is designed to look for abnormal cervical cells. Dr. Allsup collects a few cells from your cervix during the test with a special brush. That’s it! It’s a quick addition to your routine pelvic exam.
Your results fall into one of the following categories:
Abnormal cells don’t necessarily mean you have cervical cancer. Rather, it just means that some cells aren’t quite normal.
You may also have a Pap test and HPV test at the same time. If your Pap smear reveals abnormal cells, the HPV test confirms if you have high- or low-risk strains of HPV.
The biggest advantage of Pap smears is that they can detect precancerous cells before they develop into full-blown cancer. Early detection allows for proactive measures to prevent the progression of the disease.
During your exam, Dr. Allsup may also suggest the HPV vaccination if you meet the eligibility requirements. The vaccine is typically administered during adolescence but can also be given to young adults. Vaccination helps protect against the most common HPV types responsible for cervical cancer and other related cancers.
If your Pap smear reveals abnormal cells, Dr. Allsup explains your results and your next steps. Depending on the type of abnormality, you may benefit from a re-test in a few months. You may also benefit from other tests, such as a colposcopy and biopsy.
Most cancerous cells that haven’t spread beyond your cervix are treated with surgery.
National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month serves as a reminder for women to prioritize their health. If you haven’t had a Pap test recently, schedule one with Dr. Allsup. Encourage your friends to schedule their own Pap smear as well.
In addition to routine cervical cancer screenings and HPV vaccination, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend two additional strategies for preventing cervical cancer:
To book your well-woman exam, call our San Antonio, Texas, office at 210-547-4700. You can also click here to request your appointment.