Many cancer patients have one regret: they wish their cancer was detected earlier. Early detection will increase one's chances of surviving the disease. It's easy to think it can't happen to you, until it does. Cervical cancer is one of the leading causes of death among women. Don't be the next victim. Get Pap tests regularly, which will be able to help your doctor find out whether or not there are cancer cells in your body. If you want to know more details about taking a Pap smear test, read about some of the guidelines below.

1. GET A PAP SMEAR EVEN IF YOU DON'T HAVE A FAMILY HISTORY


A Papanicolau (Pap) smear is done to see whether your cervical cells are normal or have changes associated with cancer. If cells which may have been converted to pre-cancer or cancer cells are detected early, the patient has an opportunity for cure and complete recovery.

The most common cause of cervical cancer is the human papilloma virus (HPV). Every woman who may have been exposed to HPV is at risk for cervical cancer. Family history may play a role in your susceptibility to cancer, but the HPV is also transmitted through sexual intercourse.

2. GET A PAP SMEAR ONCE EVERY TWO YEARS


It was formerly recommended that a Pap test be done yearly. Recently, however, the frequency was decreased to once every two years, according to the guidelines issued by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology in November 2009.

3. GET A PAP SMEAR WHEN YOU TURN 21

Screening with a Pap test should begin at age 21, since cervical cancer is rare before this age. Performing this test on women below this age may be unnecessary and may even result in a harmful work up and treatment.

4. FOR WOMEN OVER 30

In women over 30 years of age who have had three consecutive negative or normal tests, screening may be decreased to once every three years unless they have a history of pre-cancer cells in the cervix, have an HIV infection, or are in an immune-compromised state.

5. FOR WOMEN OVER 70

In women above age 70, screening may be discontinued if no risk factors or no history of pre-cancer cells are present.

6. LIQUID-BASED TESTS ARE BETTER

Liquid-based tests are more accurate than conventional Pap smears (although more expensive) and HPV DNA testing is encouraged.


7. GET IMMUNIZATION

Since the types of HPV associated with cervical cancer have been identified, vaccines against the most common virus types have since been developed. You can ask your doctor about these vaccines, which can be administered to females as young as nine years of age and, recently, to males as well. Pap tests should be regularly performed even among women who have been immunized.

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8. VISIT YOUR GYNECOLOGIST YEARLY

An annual visit to the gynecologist is still encouraged even if a Pap test is less frequently performed. Counseling against sexually transmitted diseases, especially among adolescents, is part of the education you should receive during these visits. These visits are essential in maintaining your reproductive health.

For more articles about cervical cancer, check out these articles on FN:

(First published in the Audust 2010 issue of Good Housekeeping, Good Health, Health Check section as "Pap Facts;" adapted for use in Female Network. Photo by Jeff Turner via Flicker Creative Commons.)

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