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Pap Smears to Detect Cervical Cancer

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Regular well woman exams provide your physician the opportunity to track your health each year and perform tests to detect abnormalities of the breast, ovaries, cervix and other reproductive areas. Screenings and tests can help detect the earliest sign of an abnormality, allowing for earlier treatment and better results.

Cervical Cancer

One type of cancer that is most successfully treated, when detected early, is cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates about 12,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed and more than 4,000 women will die in the United States this year from cervical cancer. Most often, cervical cancer occurs in women between the ages of 20 and 50.

The most common symptom of cervical cancer can be abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after intercourse, bleeding between periods and bleeding after menopause. Although these symptoms may be a sign of another condition, such as an infection, it is still important to seek medical attention if you are experiencing them. Sometimes women can have cervical cancer and experience no symptoms. Because of this, it is suggested that you receive regular Pap tests and pelvic exams.

Pap Smear

One type of test that can help detect early cell abnormalities is a Pap smear, or Pap test. A Pap smear will be done during your pelvic exam and involves the collection of cervical cells with a special stick. This test may be mildly uncomfortable but should not be painful.

Your physician will help determine how often a Pap test should be done, depending on your age and medical history. While these are not set guidelines, most women can expect to receive a pap smear starting at the age of 21. Women over the age of 65 can stop having Pap smears, unless otherwise directed by their gynecologist.

Women should receive a Pap smear more frequently if:

  • You have received an organ transplant, undergone chemotherapy or use steroids, causing a weakened immune system.
  • Your mother was exposed to diethylstilbestrol, synthetic nonsteroidal estrogen, while pregnant.
  • You have previously received treatment for abnormal Pap test results or cervical cancer
  • You are HIV-positive.

Abnormal Pap Smear Results

While it can be scary, an abnormal pap test does not mean you have cancer and most often just alerts your doctor that there is a small problem with the cervix. If the results of your Pap smear are abnormal, your doctor may recommend a repeat test or may run more tests. Further testing most often includes a procedure called a colposcopy to examine the tissues of the cervix, vulva and vagina. Your doctor may also perform a biopsy on any areas that appear abnormal.

Women’s Health at UnityPoint Health – Finley Hospital

Receiving an annual well woman exam, Pap smear and HPV testing, as directed by your doctor, is fundamental to wellness and disease identification throughout your life. Use our Find a Doctor tool to locate a family medicine doctor or OB/GYN in the Dubuque area. The Wendt Regional Cancer Center is a leader in cancer care, including cervical cancer. The dedicated physicians and health care professionals work together to provide comprehensive care tailored to each patient’s individual needs.