Importance of cervical screening for cancer
Screening is testing of all women at risk of cervical cancer, most of whom will be without symptoms. Screening aims to detect precancerous changes, which, if not treated, may lead to cancer. It is only effective if there is a well-organized system for follow-up and treatment.
If there are abnormalities found on screening, women need a follow-up, diagnosis and possibly treatment, to prevent the development of cancer or in order to treat cancer at an early stage. Several tests can be used in screening for cervical cancer. The Pap smear (cytology) is the only test that has been used in large populations and that has been shown to reduce cervical cancer incidence and mortality. Other tests (VIA, VILI, HPV DNA Testing) show promise but there is as yet no comparable evidence on their effectiveness. Large studies are still underway.
When to get screened?
- If you are 21-29 years old – It is suggested that you should start getting pap tests done at the age of 21. The doctor may tell you to wait for a period of 3 years if your pap test is normal, before the next pap test.
- If you are 30-65 years old – Talk to your doctor about which testing option is right for you. The doctor may advise only a PAP or HPV test or a combination of both.
It can take as long as three weeks to receive your test results. If your test shows that something might not be normal, your doctor will contact you and figure out how best to follow up. There are many reasons why test results might not be normal. It usually does not mean you have cancer.
If your test results show cells that are not normal and may become cancer, your doctor will let you know if you need to be treated. In most cases, treatment prevents cervical cancer from developing. It is important to follow up with your doctor right away to learn more about your test results and receive any treatment that may be needed.
If your test results are normal, your chance of getting cervical cancer in the next few years is very low. Your doctor may tell you that you can wait several years for your next cervical cancer screening test. But you should still go to the doctor regularly for a checkup.