Each year in the United States more than 12,000 women are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer. If found early, it is very curable.
Once the number one cancer killer of women, it now ranks number 14 in cancer deaths for women in the United States. Almost 100% of cervical cancer is caused by specific types of the sexually transmitted HPV virus. Approximately 50% of diagnosed cervical cancer in the U.S. is in women who have never been screened and another 10% occurs in women who have not been screened within the past 5 years.
Cervical cancer follows an orderly progression from pre-cancerous to invasive cancer that can take 10-20 years. Depending upon your diagnosis, cervical cancer may be treated with surgery (early detection), radiation therapy (after surgery when there is a high risk of relapse) or chemotherapy (when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body).
Virtually all cervical cancer is caused by specific types of HPV. Anyone who is, or has been, sexually active can get an HPV infection. Although there are over 100 types of HPV, about 30 types can infect the genital area. In most cases, the HPV infection is harmless, has no symptoms and will disappear on its own within three to fifteen months.
Some low-risk types may cause genital warts, while some high-risk types cause abnormal cellular changes that may lead to cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 5.5 million new genital HPV transmissions occur in this country every year.
If your HPV test result indicates a low-risk infection, your doctor may only want to monitor the infection since there is little chance of your developing cervical cancer. A positive, high-risk result indicates that you may have an increased risk of developing cervical cancer and in certain cases your doctor may want to perform a procedure called a colposcopy where the cervix and vagina are examined using an instrument similar to a lighted magnifying glass.
Currently there is no treatment for the virus; however, cervical lesions may be removed by a simple surgical procedure and genital warts can be effectively treated with various wart medications.
Your Pap Examination
A Pap test is a simple, safe, effective and inexpensive method for screening pre-cancerous and invasive cancerous conditions in the cervix. It is considered by many to be the best cancer-screening test available.
If abnormal cells are detected at an early stage, treatment most often keeps them from developing into cancer. An abnormal pap result does not mean that cancer is present. Abnormal results can come from an infection or from pre-cancerous cells that, if left untreated, could progress to cancer.
In a conventional Pap test, cells are scraped from the cervix and “smeared” onto a glass or plastic slide in the physician’s office. Using liquid-based Pap technology, the cells are suspended in a preservative fluid and sent directly to the testing laboratory where automated instruments prepare a higher quality slide.
After that, an automated microscope reads the slide and flags the most abnormal cells for review by a cytopathologist. If anything abnormal is detected, your physician will schedule a follow-up exam.