Cervical Cancer (cont.)
Cervical Cancer Screening and Diagnosis
As with all cancers, early diagnosis is key to successful treatment and cure. Treating precancerous changes that affect only the surface of a small part of the cervix is much more likely to be successful than treating invasive cancer that affects a large portion of the cervix and has spread to other tissues.
The most important progress that has been made in early detection of cervical cancer is widespread use of the Papanicolaou test (Pap smear).
- The Pap smear is done as part of a regular pelvic examination.
- Named after the pathologist who developed the test (Papanicolaou), the Pap smear is a quick, painless, and relatively inexpensive way of screening women for precancerous or cancerous changes in their cervix.
- Cells from the surface of the cervix are collected on a slide and examined. Any abnormality found on a Pap smear mandates further evaluation.
- Women should undergo Pap screen every three years beginning at 21 years of age.
- Women between 30-65 should undergo co-testing with HPV and Pap smear testing every five years.
- HPV testing for women in their 20s is controversial as it is highly prevalent but is recommended if the Pap smear is abnormal in this age group.
Diagnosis of cervical cancer requires that a sample of cervical tissue (called a biopsy) be taken and analyzed under a microscope.
- This tissue sample can be obtained in a number of ways.
- A cervical biopsy is usually done by a specialist in diseases of women's reproductive and sexual organs (a gynecologist).
- The biopsy is examined by a physician who specializes in diagnosing diseases by looking at cells and tissues under a microscope (a pathologist).
Colposcopy is a procedure similar to a pelvic examination.
- The examination uses a type of microscope called a colposcope to inspect the cervix. The entire area of the cervix is stained with a harmless dye to make abnormal cells easier to see.
- The colposcope magnifies the cervix by eight to 10 times, allowing easier identification of any abnormal-appearing tissue that may need biopsy.
- This procedure can usually be done in a gynecologist's office.
- These abnormalities may be an early step in the slow series of changes that can lead to cancer.
Sometimes a larger biopsy is needed to fully check for invasive cervical cancer.
A cone biopsy is performed in the operating room while a woman is under anesthesia.
- A small cone-shaped sample of the cervix is removed for examination.
- Like LEEP, cone biopsy procedures result in tissue samples in which the types of cells and how much they have spread to underlying areas can be more fully determined.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/13/2015
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