January is National Cervical Cancer Screening Month and a perfect reminder to start scheduling your annual checkups. We invited Hilary Biddle, RN, Oncology Nurse Navigator, to answer a few basic questions on cervical cancer screenings and why the test is so important for women.
What are the current screening recommendations?
On September 12, 2017, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released its draft of cervical cancer screening recommendations.
What are we looking for with a screening?
A cervical cancer screening consists of a Pap test and/or an HPV test. With a Pap test, cells are taken from the cervix and examined for abnormalities. With an HPV test, cells are taken from the cervix and tested for the most common HPV types. On average, it takes 3-7 years for changes in the cells of the cervix to become cancer. A cervical cancer screening can detect cervical changes before the cells become cancerous.
What will happen if you receive a suspicious result?
An abnormal result is not uncommon and does not mean you have cancer. If a screening result comes back abnormal, additional testing is required. Additional testing may include repeat testing, colposcopy (the method of visually examining the cervix, vulva or vagina using an instrument called a colposcope), or cervical biopsy (a removal of a small piece of tissue from the cervix that is then sent to a lab for testing).
How common is cervical cancer?
In 2017, there were an estimated 12,820 patients newly diagnosed with cervical cancer. In 2014, approximately 256,078 women in the United States were living with cervical cancer. Approximately 0.6 percent of women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer.
What are some other causes of a suspicious screening?
Inflammation, infection, pre-cancerous cells and cancerous cells are all possible reasons for an abnormal screening test.
Why is it so important for women to get their cervical cancer screenings?
Cervical cancer screening can detect cervical changes before the cells become cancerous. If the screening detects changes, proper treatment and more frequent screening may be necessary.