Cervical screening is crucial as it checks the cells of the cervix for the presence or absence of human papillomavirus (HPV). In this article, we will know about cervical cancer screening, who should get screened, when to get screened, and why is it important to get screened.
What is cervical cancer screening?
Cervical cancer screening is a procedure to check for cancer before the symptoms arise. It is essential to get the screening done to find the precancerous cervical cell changes to prevent cancer from developing. If cervical cancer is found at an early stage, it is easier to treat it when the symptoms appear, the precancerous cells start to spread, and the treatment becomes more difficult.
As per the World Health Organization, the most widely used screening test is cytology (pap smear). Other than this, in cases of low-resource settings, HPV testing and visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) are seen to be effective. The HPV test looks for the Human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cell changes in the cervix.
The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancerous cells or cell changes on the cervix, which can progress to cervical cancer.
Who should get cervical cancer screening done?
Some people are at a higher risk for cervical cancer than others. Such women should get timely checked for cervical cancer. A high-risk HPV infection of the cervix can cause a persistent infection that might cause severe cervical cell changes that might develop into cervical cancer. These risk factors include:
- An immunocompromised or weakened immune system.
- History of regularly smoking or breathing in secondhand smoke
- Becoming sexually active at an early age:
- Use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills) and giving birth to many children. (However, the etiology behind this is not well understood yet.
When to get screened for cervical cancer?
The screening requirement differs depending on the age. A woman should get started with cervical cancer screening tests as early as 21 years of age. If the results are normal, then the next test should be repeated after three years.
If a woman is between 30 to 65 years of age, she can either get HPV test every five years and a Pap test every three years or both HPV and Pap tests, which are repeated at 5 and 3 years, respectively. After 65 years, a doctor must check whether a woman must undergo the screening.
Why is it essential to get cervical cancer screening done?
If the result of a screening test is positive or there is a presence of any type of HPV during screening, then these cells are further checked for abnormal changes. If abnormal cells are not treated, they may turn into cervical cancer. Usually, it takes a few years for high-grade changes in cervical cells to become cancer. Cervical cancer screening may detect these changes before they become cancer. Women with high-grade changes can get treatment to have the cells removed. However, frequent testing is needed in women with low-grade changes to check if the abnormal cells return to normal.
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