Cervical cancer is a scary diagnosis, but the good news is that is can usually be prevented and potentially cured with early detection. Vaccination is a must in the prevention of this form of cancer, while there are two tests used to detect it.
The cervix is found in the lower portion of the uterus that is connected to the vagina, and it is there where cervical cancer forms. The human papillomavirus (HPV) serves as the cause of this disease, and back in 2016, the National Cancer Institute estimated that close to 13,000 women in the U.S. would be diagnosed with this form of cancer. They also claimed that over 4,100 women would likely die from the disease.
The Two Cervical Cancer Tests
The Pap smear and the HPV test are what is used to detect and diagnose cervical cancer. Shyam Kalavar, who serves the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a cytologist and expert in the microscopic examination of cells, tells us that the Pap smear is used to look for abnormalities in the cervix that may eventually lead to cancer if not treated.
If abnormalities are found during the Pap test, the patient may be subjected to further testing. These additional tests may include a second Pap smear, an HPV test to look for the cancer-causing types of HPV, or a cervical biopsy. With over 100 different types of HPV, finding out if the abnormalities are those which lead to cancer is incredibly important.
Kalavar makes it clear that early detection is often the key to successful treatment. The problem with cervical cancer is that is often painless, which is why it is often not detected until the later stages. This is why women need to submit to regular testing.
While the pap smear is not 100% accurate, the number of times that cervical cancer is missed during testing is small. Abnormal cells can take many, many years to develop into cervical cancer, which is once again why regular testing is so important. This information comes from guidelines put together in 2012 by the American Cancer Society, the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, and the American Society for Clinical Pathology.
A process referred to as Pap and HPV co-testing can be used to look for the high-risk types of HPV in women. Abnormalities sometime missed in Pap testing will almost certainly be caught using the co-test process. It should be noted that HPV testing is now the first-line of defense in the screening for cervical cancer, but women should talk to their doctor first before making a decision.
The Importance of Vaccination
Gardasil 9 is a cervical cancer vaccine that has been approved by the FDA. This vaccine works just like other disease prevention methods in that it prompts the immune system in the body to fight disease-causing viruses and bacteria.
Nine different types of HPV are covered by Gardasil 9, which helps prevent roughly 90% of cervical, vaginal, anal, and vulvar cancers, as well as genital warts. Females aged 9 through 26 are approved to use Gardasil 9.
Gardasil 9 delivers its full benefits when used by patients who get vaccinated before HPV infection occurs. What this vaccine does not do is serve as protection against diseases caused by the other forms of HPV outside the 9 that Gardasil covers. It should not be considered a treatment, but rather, a prevention.
Women who have been vaccinated should still not take their health for granted, and should still go for regular Pap tests so that any precancerous changes can be detected early.