HealthFix: When and why to be screened for cervical cancer

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Dr. Jared Martin with the Davis Hospital and Medical Center talked with Fox 13 about when and why to be screened for cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer occurs when malignant cells form in the cervix. The development is usually quite slow, but if left undetected, the cancer cells can spread more deeply into the cervix and surrounding tissues. Before malignancies appear, the cells in the cervix go through changes known as dysplasia.

What is the Pap test and why is it important?

The PAP test, or PAP smear, helps physicians look for abnormal cells or cancers in the cervix. Cell changes, dysplasia, can develop on the cervix, and if left undetected, can lead to cervical cancer. Cervical cancer can almost always be prevented if a woman has regular Pap tests.

Since Pap tests can detect the early signs of cervical cancer, the chances of successful treatment of cervical cancer are high. If the physician finds abnormal cervical cells before any malignancy has developed, treatment of these abnormal cells can help prevent most cases of cervical cancer. Bottom line, getting regular Pap tests is the best thing a woman can do to prevent cervical cancer.

When should women get Pap tests?

It is recommended that all women between the ages of 21 to 65, regardless of sexual activity, should get routine Pap tests as part of their health care.

The frequency of Pap tests depends on a woman’s age and health history. However, most women can follow these guidelines:

  • Between the ages of 21 and 29—get a Pap test every 3 years
  • Between the ages of 30 and 64—get a Pap test and human papillomavirus (HPV) test every 5 years, or a Pap test alone every 3 years
  • 65 and older—talk to a physician. Most women who have had 3 normal Pap tests in a row in the last 10 years do not need Pap tests any longer