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Patient FAQs and FACTS
FAQs and FACTS

Answers Every Patient Needs!

Scroll down to find answers to your questions about Pap tests, cervical cancer, and many other forms of cancer.

WHAT IS A PAP TEST? 

The Pap test, or Pap smear is a screening test that has been very successful at finding signs of cervical cancer. It is also effective at detecting cells that may turn into cancer cells in the future. To perform the test, your doctor gently scrapes cells from your uterine cervix, then sends the cells to a laboratory for review. The test allows laboratory professionals to spot early signs of cancer so that, if any are found, you can be treated before the disease actually develops.

WHY DO MOST WOMEN NEED A PAP TEST?

It may be uncomfortable or mildy unpleasant at times but it can save lives! The Pap test is the only method to screen for pre-cancerous lesions of the cervix. Over the past 50 years, it has helped to reduce cervical cancer deaths by 70%. Early detection of cervical disease usually means less traumatic intervention and can be expected to improve quality of life, increase life expectancy and reduce overall health care costs.

In reality, the Pap test is so effective because it helps doctors detect abnormalities early, before they progress into more serious problems. By getting a regular, routine exam, you can increase the chances of finding a problem before it progresses. Also, the internal examination performed by your doctor as part of the Pap test process is an important part of your regular check-up. Since the symptoms of cervical cancer are not always obvious, the best way for protection is by having regular Pap tests.

WHAT ARE CERVICAL CANCER RISK FACTORS?

All sexually active women are at risk for contracting cervical cancer. But there are certain risk factors that can make some women more prone than others.

These risk factors include:
  • Sexual intercourse before age 20 or multiple sex partners, both of which may increase your chance of exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Exposure to HPV, which is sexually transmitted and found in one clinical study to be present in 93% of women who have cervical cancer.
  • Smoking
  • Problems with your immune system

WHEN & HOW OFTEN ARE PAP TESTS NEEDED? 

Every woman should have her first Pap test by age 21 or within 3 years of when she becomes sexually active, whichever comes first. Women should continue to have routine pelvic exams even after menopause.

Current Pap test guidelines suggest:
  • An initial Pap test by the age of 21 or within three years of the onset of sexual activity.   
  • Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every three years.
  • Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have either a Pap test alone every three years or a Pap test with an HPV test (co-testing) every five years.
  • Women over 65 who have had adequate negative prior screening and no evidence of severely abnormal Paps in the last 20 years may discontinue screening.  However, they should still have routine pelvic examinations.
  • If you're at high risk of cervical cancer, you'll need to have more frequent Pap tests.

DO I NEED A PAP TEST EVEN IF I AM HEALTHY AND FEEL FINE?

Yes. Even though you may feel fine, you should still have a Pap test on a regular basis. That way, any problems can be caught and treated early on - before they become serious. Treatments are less invasive and the cure rate is higher the earlier any abnormality is found.

CAN I JUST HAVE AN HPV TEST INSTEAD OF A PAP TEST?

Recent studies have shown that an HPV test alone may be sufficient to screen for cervical cancer.  In fact, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has recently approved this as a valid method for cervical cancer screening.  However, there are mixed reviews in scientific circles regarding the use of HPV testing alone.  Data is still being collected and it may be years before we know the impact of this testing on the rate of cervical cancer.  Therefore, at Physicians Lab we feel it is still in the patient's best interest to follow the current screening guidelines and have a Pap and HPV test together at the age-appropriate intervals.

DO I STILL NEED A PAP TEST IF I HAVE RECEIVED THE HPV VACCINE?

Yes, the guidelines remain the same whether or not you have been vaccinated.  Gardasil and Cervarix, the two FDA-approved vaccines, only protect against certain more common types of HPV but there are others that may cause precancerous changes that can lead to cervical cancer that the vaccine does not cover.  It is important to note also that these vaccines should be given before the person becomes sexually active, which is why the recommendations are to give it to younger adolescents.  The data is inconclusive as to how long the vaccines are effective primarily because they haven't been in use for that long a period of time.  Gardasil is also FDA-approved for use in males ages 9-26 for the prevention of genital warts caused by HPV types 6 and 11.  For more information regarding either of these vaccines you can visit their websites, www.gardasil.com and www.cervarix.com.

WHAT IF THE TEST RESULTS SHOW I MAY HAVE A PROBLEM?

There is always that fear, but it shouldn't stop you from getting the test. Most Pap test results are normal. However, should there be a problem, your doctor can follow up immediately with whatever treatment is best for you. It's important to remember that, if detected early, cervical cancer is almost 100% curable. That's why it's important to get routine exams.

FACTS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CERVICAL CANCER

Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers that affects a woman's reproductive organs.  Left untreated, the cancer spreads and makes it more difficult to treat.  HPV (human papilloma virus) is the main cause of cervical cancer. 
The immune system response in most women prevents the virus from doing harm after being exposed to HPV.  In a small group of women the virus survives for years.  Then it eventually converts some cells on the surface of the cervix into cancer cells.  Because their immune system is weaker, older women are most at risk of developing cervical cancer.
Since early cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms, regular exams are important so that any abnormal cells can be caught early.  With earlier detection, less invasive treatment options offer greater success rates.
As the cancer progresses, these signs and symptoms may appear: 
    

  • Bleeding from the vagina after intercourse, between periods, or after menopause
  • Watery, bloody discharge from the vagina that may be heavy and have a foul odor

    Reduce the risk of getting cervical cancer by:

  • delaying first intercourse
  • having fewer sexual partners
  • using condoms
  • having routine Pap tests and pelvic exams

     

     

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