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What screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer?

Healthcare professionals use the Pap test to find abnormal cell changes in cervical tissue that are cancerous or may become cancerous. The earlier cervical cancer is diagnosed, the better the chance for a cure. The American Cancer Society reports that both incidence and deaths from cervical cancer have declined markedly over the last several decades, due to more frequent detection and treatment of preinvasive and cancerous lesions of the cervix from increased Pap test screening.

Because persistent infection with high-risk strains of HPV can be a predictor of the presence or future development of preinvasive and cervical cancer, many medical professionals now also test for this virus as an adjunct to the Pap test. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of a human papillomavirus (HPV) test for screening women ages 30 and older. When combined with a Pap test in women of this age group, the HPV test is better at identifying women at risk for developing cervical cancer than the Pap test alone.

The reason screening is so important in preventing cervical cancer is because the disease usually causes no symptoms in its earliest stages. Irregular bleeding, bleeding or pain during sex and vaginal discharge may be symptoms of a more advanced disease. These symptoms should always be discussed with a healthcare professional.

Dr. Linus T. Chuang, MD
Gynecologic Oncologist

Begin pap smear screening after 21 years old and co-testing with pap and HPV starting at 30 years old every 3-5 years. It is unlikely one will develop cervical cancer with this screening process. Remember to see your gynecologists on a regular basis.

Two screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early:

  • The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.
  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.