Did you know that the average age for a diagnosis of cervical cancer is 50 years old? Luckily, cervical cancer is detectable and very treatable if it is caught early. The ability to screen for precancerous cells has vastly increased the odds of beating this form of cancer, provided that patients get screened regularly. Learn about Pap smears and HPV tests, why they are vital to women’s health and gynecology, whether you still need to get them after age 50, and how Tidewater Physicians for Women can help.
A Pap smear is a cervical cancer screening test wherein the cells of your cervix are tested for changes that indicate cancer or a precancerous condition called the human papillomavirus, or HPV. The test is also called cervical cytology. The screening process is fast and easy and can be part of your pelvic exam. While lying on an exam table, your doctor will use a speculum to open your vagina. They will then use a brush, swab, or other sampling instrument to take a small sample of cells from inside your cervix.
These cells are placed in a special liquid to preserve them and are sent to a testing lab where they are examined for abnormalities. For an HPV test, the cells are tested to see if the most high-risk types of HPV are present. Often, the same sample can be used for both tests, though in some cases, the doctor may take two separate samples.
The risk factors associated with a Pap smear are exceptionally low. You may experience some pain or bleeding, and in the rarest cases, infections can occur. Still, the benefits of a Pap smear far outweigh any of these minor risks, as the test can quite literally save your life.
The samples taken and the methods to take them are the same for both Pap tests and HPV tests. The only difference is what the lab looks for when examining the cell samples. In a Pap test or Pap smear test, the sample is examined for cancerous cells or precancers, which are changes to the cervical cells that could become cervical cancer if the right treatments are not given.
In an HPV test, rather than looking for abnormal cells, the lab tests for certain varieties of the human papillomavirus. Everyone has this virus, but for most people, it remains dormant throughout their life. If the virus becomes active, certain strains of it can present a risk for cancer. Testing for active HPV can permit the virus to be treated and can help to prevent or properly fight any cancer that does arise.
Cervical cancer is the most common form of cancer among U.S. women, according to the National Cancer Institute, but at the same time is also one of the most treatable and preventable with regular testing and healthcare. An abnormal Pap test reveals precancerous changes to the cervix, which can then be treated before they turn into cancer. If you have an abnormal Pap test, your healthcare provider will discuss options with you at a follow-up appointment. The Pap test has saved many lives over the years, and it can save yours.
If you are ready to get your test and protect yourself against precancers, Tidewater Physicians for Women is ready to help. Just call our office at 757-461-3890 to speak with a team member today.
You should absolutely continue to get Pap smear exams after menopause. Just because you are experiencing menopause symptoms or have gone through the change does not mean you are immune to cervical cancer. Women who have gone through menopause can still be vulnerable to cancer, and continued checking can save a life.
You generally have three options for testing after the age of 50:
Many doctors recommend that women age 50 and over who have just entered menopause should still get Pap tests every three years if they have had normal Pap test results for three years in a row with no history of precancerous results.
If you have had precancerous results, you may need to continue to get tested more frequently. If you have no family history of cervical cancer, you received the HPV vaccine as a young adult or adolescent, and you have had at least three consecutive negative Pap test results or two consecutive negative HPV or co-test results, you may be able to extend the time between Pap smears. Speak with your doctor for advice on which option is best for you based on your medical history.
You may still need regular Pap tests if you have had a hysterectomy, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). It depends on the reason for your hysterectomy, whether your cervix was removed as part of a total hysterectomy procedure, and whether you have a history of cervical cancer or extreme cervical cell changes.
Even if your cervix has been removed, you may still have cervical cells at the top of the vagina. If you have had surgery for cervical cancer, or you have a history of cancer or high-grade cell changes in the cervix, you should continue screenings for 20 years after your initial surgery.
When you reach the age of 65, if you have no history of abnormal cervical cells or cervical cancer, and you have had either three negative Pap smear results in a row, two negative HPV tests in a row, or two negative co-tests in a row within the past decade, you may be able to stop getting Pap tests. Your most recent test should have been performed within the past three to five years, depending on the test, before you and your doctor agree that you can stop cervical cancer screening.
No exceptional preparation is needed for your regular Pap test. In general, you should avoid sex, douching, spermicide, and vaginal medication for two days before the test. If you have had sex within the past two days, inform the doctor at your checkup before they perform the test. You can even get a Pap test if you are menstruating.
At Tidewater Physicians for Women, we take women’s health very seriously. Our OB/GYN doctors and medical staff are here to help you with all aspects of your health and wellness, including Pap tests and HPV tests. We provide caring, compassionate, comprehensive, and professional care for women with specific medical issues.
Our patients consist of women throughout every stage of life, from young adults seeking birth control to expectant mothers to those going through menopause and beyond. We are here to put your mind at ease and guide you through important healthcare decisions at every stage of life. If you are in the Virginia Beach or Norfolk area, contact us today by calling 757-461-3890 to speak with a team member and set up your appointment.