Regular Pap Testing Just Might Save Your Life

Regular Pap Testing Just Might Save Your Life

All forms of cancer are the byproduct of a mass of cells growing out of control, and despite the fact cancer survival is still on the rise, nearly 40% of all Americans will have a cancer diagnosis at some point in their lives. 

As recently as 2020, the cancers most people were diagnosed with included breast, lung, pancreatic, colorectal, bladder, thyroid, and liver cancer as well as melanoma, leukemia, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. 

These conditions affect both sexes, but for women, there’s also the risk of a series of gynecological cancers, including ovarian, vaginal, vulvar, uterine, and cervical cancer. If you live in the Miami, Florida, area, and you need cervical cancer screening or other gynecological concerns addressed, our medical team at Eve Medical of Miami can help.

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, so let’s explore the issues with this specific condition and help you understand how pap tests (also known as pap smears) can help with diagnosing cervical cancer and increasing your chances of survival.

Understanding cervical cancer

Sometimes referred to as the neck of the uterus, your cervix is the muscular, tunnel-like opening that connects your vagina and uterus, and it’s the part that widens when you give birth. 

Your cervix is essential to passing menstrual blood out of your body during your monthly cycle and allowing sperm to pass into your uterus if you're trying to get pregnant. Cervical cancer is a rapid growth of abnormal cells that develops on the surface of your cervix, starting when normal cells develop into precancerous ones.

This disease is often caused by the sexually transmitted infection known as human papillomavirus (HPV) through sexual contact, but having the infection doesn’t guarantee you’ll get cervical cancer. 

There are two kinds of cervical cancer, squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma, with the former being the most common and affecting up to 90% of women with this disease. 

How regular pap testing helps detect cervical cancer 

Early stages of cervical cancer are more difficult to detect, which is why screenings like pap tests are so important, because if the cancer develops further, it can spread (metastasize) to nearby organs and tissue making the problem worse and harder to treat. 

Getting a pap test allows us to check for evidence of precancerous cells in your cervix to find the problem before it has a chance to become a threat to your health. 

If you’ve never had a pap test, the process consists of being placed in stirrups while lying down, having a device called a speculum placed into your vagina to provide better access to your cervix, and gathering cells using a spatula, brush, or cytobrush.

The American Cancer Society suggests starting to get pap tests around the age of 25, but you can start as early as 21 if you have additional risk factors. Pap testing should be done every three years until you’re 30, at which point you can get tested for both cervical cancer and HPV every five years, or continue with the three-year tests and get HPV screenings every five years. At about 65, you can generally stop being tested unless otherwise instructed by your physician.

Understanding the results of your pap test

Once the test is done, your sample is sent off and you get one of two results—normal or abnormal. Normal indicates a negative result, which means no evidence of precancerous, cancerous, or other abnormal cells. 

An abnormal result can be a little more complicated. If your results come back positive, this doesn’t automatically mean you have cancer, only that abnormal cells are present. How we proceed depends on the type of cells your sample indicates, which can mean further testing to examine your cervix and other areas more thoroughly or a biopsy to get a definitive diagnosis. 

If cervical cancer is confirmed, we proceed with treatment and help you survive this illness, but it all starts with getting pap smears regularly. If you’re due for a test or need other gynecological services, schedule an appointment at Eve Medical of Miami online or by phone today.

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