Cervical cancer screening involves two tests: Pap smear and HPV test. Pap smear and HPV tests help in detecting precancerous lesions and early cervical cancer, which can eventually increase survival rates due to early detection.
Cervical cancer screening detects abnormal cells before they turn to cancer cells. While a Pap smear test will also find infections and inflammations, an HPV test detects human papillomavirus that causes the abnormalities in the cells.
Due to the lack of knowledge about these simple screening protocols, our country India, has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer!
So what is the HPV virus?
HPV virus is the most common sexually transmitted infection. Each HPV virus in the group is given a number which is called as HPV type. The HPV virus lives on certain cells, like the squamous epithelial cells of the skin and moist surfaces. Most sexually active people will attract an HPV at some point in time with responses being mainly being asymptomatic (no symptoms experienced). The body’s immune system usually fights off the virus at some point, however, a lack of a strong immune for a long period of time can eventually lead to cervical cancer.
How is a Pap smear and HPV test conducted
Pap smear and HPV test is done in a hospital usually through a pelvic examination. The woman is told to lie down on the bed with legs apart and a instrument called speculum is inserted so that the upper portion of the vagina and cervix can be seen. From here, samples of cervical cells are taken and tested in the laboratory under a microscope.
How frequently should you have these cervical cancer screening tests?
Pap smear test detects only cervical cancer and doesn’t detect ovarian, uterine, vaginal, or vulvar cancers. Women usually get their pap smear test once they have been sexually active. The national cancer institute provides the following guidelines:
- For women between 21-29 age : Pap smear test once every 3 years
- For women between 30-65 age: Pap smear and HPV test once every five years or once every 3 years for pap test alone
Continue regular screenings even after HPV vaccination
Women who have been vaccinated with the HPV vaccine should still regularly go for cancer screenings because HPV vaccination doesn’t protect you from all the HPV types that cause cervical cancer.
Treatment options for cervical cells abnormalities
The treatment options available to treat cell abnormalities are LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure), Cryotherapy, Laser therapy and Conization.
Conversely, however there are drawbacks of cervical screening tests such as sometimes normal cells are mistaken for abnormal cells and vice versa. The second draw back is that the abnormality in certain cells are temporary and might fade away in time, however cervical cancer screening will detect such cells, prompting for a number of other follow up tests.
When it comes to cervical cancer, it must be noted that it’s 100% preventable, detectable and curable, but all depending upon the timeframe. If caught early, then the chances of getting the cancer in the first place is not possible, however if we are educated about the preventative measures (screening and contraceptives) and how to lead a healthy lifestyle, there will be no existence of precancerous cells.