What is Cervical Cancer Screening?
Screening tests can find early problems before you get sick. The Pap test is a screening test for cervical cancer. It looks for abnormal cells on your cervix that could turn into cancer over time. That way, problems can be found and treated before they ever turn into cancer.
An HPV test may also be used with the Pap test for women 30 years or older, as part of routine screening.
Cervical cancer is the most easiest preventable type of female cancer, with both HPV vaccines and regular screening tests. Getting regular cervical cancer screening is key to preventing this disease.
Cervical Cancer Screening Tests
One important way to prevent cervical cancer is through regular screening with the Pap test.
An HPV test can also be used at the same time as the Pap test for women 30 years and older.
Since cervical cancer often does not cause symptoms until it is advanced, it is important to get screened even when you feel healthy.
Two screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early—
• The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.
• The HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause these cell changes.
The Pap test is recommended for all women, and can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic. During the Pap test, the doctor will use a plastic or metal instrument, called a speculum, to widen your vagina. This helps the doctor examine the vagina and the cervix, and collect a few cells and mucus from the cervix and the area around it. The cells are then placed on a slide or in a bottle of liquid and sent to a laboratory. The laboratory will check to be sure that the cells are normal.
If you are getting the HPV test in addition to the Pap test, the cells collected during the Pap test will be tested for HPV at the laboratory. Talk with your doctor, nurse, or other health care professional about whether the HPV test is right for you.
When you have a Pap test, the doctor may also perform a pelvic exam, checking your uterus, ovaries, and other organs to make sure there are no problems. There are times when your doctor may perform a pelvic exam without giving you a Pap test. Ask your doctor which tests you are having, if you are unsure.
What can HPV do to my body?
• Some HPV types can cause changes on a woman’s cervix that can lead to cervical cancer over time. These HPV types can also infect other parts of the body and cause other, less common cancers in men and women.
• Other HPV types can cause genital warts. But the HPV types that can cause genital warts are different from the types that can cause cancer.
Most of the time, the body’s immune system fights off HPV naturally within two years– before HPV causes any health problems. It is only when HPV stays on a woman’s cervix for many years that it can cause cervical cancer. Experts do not know why HPV lingers in certain cases but not others.
The Pap and HPV tests look for different things:
The Pap Test
Checks your cervix for abnormal cells that could turn into cervical cancer.
The HPV Test
Checks your cervix for the virus (HPV) that can cause abnormal cells and lead to cervical cancer.
The Pap and HPV tests can find early problems that could lead to cervical cancer over time. These tests do NOT:
• Check for early signs of other cancers
• Check your fertility (ability to get pregnant)
• Check for all HPV types –The HPV test only checks for specific HPV types that are linked to cervical cancer.
• Check for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
You don’t need to ask your doctor for an HPV test. Your doctor should offer you an HPV test if you need it and it is available in their practice.