Why Are Pap Tests Important?

The Pap Test is the best way to find changes in the cervix early – before they become serious. The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus. It opens into the vagina. A thin layer of tissue covers the cervix; similar to the tissue that lines the inside of your mouth. During the Pap Test your Doctor will take a small sampling of cells from your cervix, a lab will look at these cells microscopically in order to determine any abnormalities.

Some of the disorders that are more commonly found in the cervix include:

· Cervicitis – an inflammation of the cervix. It is common in women of childbearing years. It can be caused by an infection or an irritation from a foreign body.

· Polyps – are benign (not cancer) growths or tumors that often appear on the cervix. They can vary in size and may cause vaginal bleeding. In many cases the polyps can be removed in the office without anesthesia.

· Genital warts – are spreading growths, also called condyloma, that are caused by some types of the human papillomavirus (HPV). The virus is most often passed during sex. Some types of the HPV are linked to cancer. Women who have had genital warts should have regular checkups that include Pap tests.

· Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that is spread through sexual contact. Most of the time, HPV has no symptoms so people do not know they have it. There are more than 100 types of genital HPV. Certain high-risk types of HPV are associated with an increased risk for development of cervical cancer. Other so-called low risk types can cause genital warts in both males and females. The HPV vaccine, Gardasil, has been shown to protect against the two types of the virus that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer and two types that cause 90 percent of genital warts. Clinical trials demonstrated that the vaccine was close to 100 percent effective in protecting women from these types of HPV. To get the protection Gardasil offers, you can’t already have been exposed to the HPV types that the vaccine prevents. If you have, the vaccine won’t provide any future protection of these types of the virus. Other vaccines that protect against more types of HPV are in development. In the meantime, a regular Pap test will check for cervical changes that could lead to cancer, even if you have been vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is not recommended during pregnancy.

· Dysplasia – is a type of cervical disorder that occurs when there is a change in the cells on the surface of the cervix. It is not cancer. It is diagnosed when abnormal cells replace normal, benign cells. Dysplasia often can be diagnosed and treated with success. It is found in women of all ages, but is more common in young women and teens. Risk factors of dysplasia include having genital warts, more than one sexual partner (or a single sex partner who has had many other partners), having your first sexual encounter at a young age and smoking.

· Cervical cancer- when abnormal cells move deeper into the tissue layers of the cervix or spreads to other organs it is referred to as Invasive Cervical Cancer. Because cervical cancer most often develops after abnormal cells have been present for a number of years, it tends to affect women aged 35 -50; however, cervical cancer can occur at any age. The risk factors for cervical cancer are much like those for dysplasia (see above). There are often no symptoms associated with cervical cancer. Regular exams by your Doctor are the best way to diagnose and treat abnormal cells before they become invasive.