Today, most cases of cervical cancer are preventable or treatable, thanks to the Pap test. This simple test detects early signs of cancer of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. It also can uncover abnormal cells before they become cancer.
A Pap test can reveal abnormal cells caused by infections, such as human papillomavirus (HPV). Women with some types of HPV have a higher risk for cervical cancer.
Women who may have a higher risk for cervical cancer include those who:
Screening is important for all women, but some are at higher risk than others. Latinas have a higher incidence of cervical cancer than Caucasian women. African-American women are more than twice as likely to die from cervical cancer, yet their incidence is slightly lower, compared with Caucasian women.
Pap test only takes a few minutes and is usually painless. During the test, a doctor uses a small swab or brush to collect some cells from the cervix. The cells are later analyzed in a lab. Most tests turn out normal, but your doctor will contact you if yours is not.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women begin cervical cancer screening at age 21. Women ages 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every other year. Women 30 and older who have had three consecutive negative Pap tests can reduce screening to every three years. Those at increased risk for cervical cancer should talk with their doctors about when to start and how often to have Pap tests.
When it’s time for your next Pap test, keep these tips in mind: