Cervical Cancer Screening: What You Need to Know

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Your cervix is the part in between your uterus and vagina. It is a small canal which allows fluid to enter and leave the uterus. The cervix is designed to keep bacteria out of the uterus, by producing discharge. The cervix also produces a mucus plug during pregnancy to protect your baby from any bacteria. 

A cervical screening is used to collect cells from the cervix, and then these cells will be examined to see if there might be any cancerous cells or Human papillomavirus (HPV). A screening will include a pap smear. It is recommended to get a pap smear once women become sexually active or start from the age of 21. 


Why is a Cervical Screening Important?

Normally it takes 3-7 years for high-grade cells to become cancerous in the cervix. It is important to schedule cervical screenings to ensure that these cell changes are detected before they become cancerous. Women with low-grade cells can be checked more often, to see if their cells go back to normal. If you have high-grade cells, the doctor can remove them before they become cancerous. Cervical screening can save your life, and it is important to go for scheduled screenings. 


What is a Pap Smear?

A pap smear can also be called a pap test. This procedure is used to test for cervical cancer, it is normally accompanied by a pelvic exam. A pap smear can also test for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV),a virus that can cause a variation of different cancers in both men and women, and it is a commonly sexually transmitted infection. Doctors generally recommend doing a pap smear every three years after the age of 21. If you have certain risk factors such as a previous pap smear that indicated precancerous cells, HIV infection, or a history of smoking, your doctor may advise you to do a pap smear more often. 


What is Cervical Cancer?

The cervix consists of two parts, the ectocervix and the endocervix. The cervix is covered with a thin layer of tissue consisting of two types of cells namely, squamous cells (skin-like cells in the ectocervix) and glandular cells in the endocervix. Glandular cells are responsible for producing mucus in the cervix. The transformation zone (squamocolumnar) is the part of the cervix where the endocervix and ectocervix meet. It is in the squamocolumnar area where cancer normally first starts to grow. Cancer will occur once these cervical cells start to become abnormal and grow faster than normal. The process of abnormal cells appearing is known as dysplasia. If the cancer starts to become more advanced it can spread to other organs in the body. 


At What Age Can I Stop Getting a Cervical Screening?

You can stop getting a cervical screening after the age of 65. Followed by if you do not have a family history of cancer, or if you have had either three negative pap smear tests or two negative HPV tests in a row. These tests should have been conducted within the past 3 to 5 years. 


Hysterectomy and Cervical Screening

Women who have had a hysterectomy might still need to have cervical screenings done, it all depends on why the hysterectomy was conducted. If there is a history of cancer, then it is recommended that you still go for cervical screenings. Some cervical cells might still be present at the top of the vagina, even though you had a hysterectomy. If you have a history of cancer, then there is still a chance that these cervical cells can become cancerous, and it is recommended that you still see your doctor for regular cervical screenings. 


Why is Cervical Screening Only Recommended After the Age of 21?

Women younger than the age of 21 rarely get diagnosed with cervical cancer. Most women get infected with the Human Papilloma Virus when they start to become sexually active. But because the immune system for ladies at this age are still very strong, the HPV virus can go away after 1 or 2 years without causing any change of the cervical cells. Should there be a change in the cervical cells, it almost always goes back to normal. 


Should I Still Go for a Cervical Screening If I'm not Sexually Active? 

HPV can still be spread through genital contact, even if you do not have sexual intercourse. There is still a chance of you getting infected with HPV. It is also important to note that HPV is not the only risk factor for developing cervical cancer. Other risk factors for cervical cancer include smoking and having a family history of cancer


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