Cervical Cancer Screening
Cervical cancer screening is used to find changes in the cells of the cervix that could lead to cancer. The cervix is the opening to the uterus and is located at the top of the vagina. It is the lower part of the uterus, the place where a baby grows during pregnancy.
Cervical cancer screening is usually a part of women’s health check-up. There are two types of tests: Cervical cytology or Pap test and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) test. For both, the doctor or nurse collects cells from the surface of the cervix. With the Pap test, the lab checks the sample for cancer cells or abnormal cells that could become cancer later. Cervical cancer screening can be done in a medical office, a clinic, or a community health center.
There are steps you can take to ensure you get the best possible results from your Pap or HPV test.
- Try to schedule the test on a day when you do not expect to be on your menstrual period. If your period begins unexpectedly and will be continuing on the day of your test, try to reschedule the appointment.
- Avoid sexual intercourse 48 hours before the test.
- Do not douche 48 hours before the test.
- Do not use vaginal creams, foams, films, or jellies such as spermicides or medications inserted into the vagina for 48 hours before the test
While a woman lies on an exam table, a health care professional inserts an instrument called a speculum into her vagina to widen it so that the upper portion of the vagina and the cervix can be seen. This procedure also allows the health care professional to take a sample of cervical cells. The cells are taken with a wooden or plastic scraper and a cervical brush and are then prepared for Pap analysis in one of two ways.
- For a Pap test, the sample is examined to see if abnormal cells are present.
- For an HPV test, the sample is tested for the presence of 13–14 of the most common high-risk HPV types.
- Cervical cancer screening is used to find cancer before you have any symptoms. Cancer found early may be easier to treat.
- Pap tests also called smear tests have been used to screen for cervical cancer. This test involves examining cells on the cervix to detect any changes.
- HPV test (test for human papillomaviruses) can be done to find out whether a woman has an HPV infection and is therefore at greater risk of cervical cancer.