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Cervical Health and Cancer Screening Guidelines

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen • edited by: lrohner • updated: 11/28/2010

Are you up-to-date with all cervical health screening guidelines? If not, read on to learn more about them.

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    Cervical cancer develops in the cervix, a female reproductive organ, and is highly treatable when caught early. Regular cervical health screenings will provide all of the testing necessary for an early diagnosis for most patients. Screening for cervical cancer can detect precancerous conditions as well and the precancerous condition that often occurs before cervical cancer known as dysplasia is a 100 percent treatable condition that can be detected by a Pap smear. It is estimated that every eight in 100,000 women will develop cervical cancer.

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    Initial Screening

    When a woman should get her first Pap smear is widely debated in the medical community. Every woman 21 years of age and older should have her first Pap smear if she hasn't already. In general, the first Pap smear should come within three years of having sexual intercourse in woman younger than 21 years of age. Women ages 19 to 29 who do not have any risk factors for this cancer may have a Pap smear every three years. Women between the ages of 30 and 64 who do not have any risk factors for this cancer may have a Pap smear every two to three years unless their doctor recommends otherwise. Women between ages 65 and 70 who have had a minimum of three normal Pap smears in the last decade may decide to stop having Pap smears altogether as long as their doctor is on board with this decision.

    If the patient has had a hysterectomy where both their uterus and cervix were removed, they may also elect to no longer have Pap smears. However, if they had the surgery for pre-cancer of the cervix or cervical cancer, Pap smears may still be necessary. Women who did not have their cervix removed during this surgery will have to continue getting regular Pap smears.

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    What is a Pap Smear?

    This screening technique is done in the patient's doctor's office. The patient will be asked to remove all clothing and undergarments from the waist down. She will then lie on the table and place her feet in the stirrups. Her doctor will insert a speculum into the vagina to widen it. Using a swab, the doctor will collect some mucus and cells from the cervix, and will examine the cervix and vagina. The cells are then transferred to a slide and sent to a lab for evaluation.

    During a Pap smear and cervical health screening, the patient's doctor may also do a pelvic exam. During a pelvic exam, the doctor will look at the ovaries, uterus, and other nearby organs to ensure they are healthy.

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    Resources

    American Cancer Society. (2010). American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer. Retrieved on November 20, 2010 from the American Cancer Society: http://www.cancer.org/Healthy/FindCancerEarly/CancerScreeningGuidelines/american-cancer-society-guidelines-for-the-early-detection-of-cancer

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Cervical Cancer Screening. Retrieved on November 20, 2010 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/screening.htm