A Pap smear is just one of many cancer screenings that you can discuss getting with your family practitioner. An integral part of routine women’s health, the Pap smear is a screening test for cervical cancer. Like all screenings, Pap smears are to be done when you don’t have any symptoms.
Women should begin getting Pap smears at age 21, which then become a part of your well woman exams. When you turn 30, they may be replaced by human papillomavirus (HPV) tests. Washington Internal Medicine proudly offers Pap smears to women every few years and can tell you more about what to expect. At our comfortable office in Chantilly, California, board-certified internist Sohan Varma, MD, welcomes you in for Pap smears and can explain their importance to you.
Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix, which is a part of the female reproductive system. Like all types of cancer, it’s characterized by uncontrolled cell growth. Without prompt treatment, cervical cancer can spread to other parts of the body where it can do much more damage, including to your liver, lymph nodes, or bones.
In around 70% of cases, cervical cancer comes from an HPV infection. HPV is a sexually transmitted viral disease. While not everyone who has HPV will develop cervical cancer, the presence of an infection considerably increases your risk.
There are currently three HPV vaccines that prevent certain strains of the virus that are likely to cause cervical cancer, but even these immunizations cannot eliminate your risk entirely.
The reason you get Pap smears regularly throughout your life, and starting earlier than most other screenings, is because an early diagnosis is crucial for a positive treatment outcome. Cervical cancer can grow and spread for many years without your knowledge. By the time it causes symptoms, it may have already spread elsewhere.
Even if your cervical cancer screening doesn’t result in a diagnosis of cervical cancer right away, Dr. Varma may detect precancerous lesions growing on the cervix from an HPV infection. Abnormal cells do not always develop into cancer, but you’ll get a test called a colposcopy if your Pap smear results are abnormal.
During a colposcopy, Dr. Varma examines the cell changes on the cervix up close with a microscope-like instrument called a colposcope. If he detects genital warts, inflammation, or other noncancerous abnormalities, he can provide treatment on the spot. He also takes a biopsy of any abnormal parts of the cervix to check the cells for cancer in a lab.
If you’re due for another cervical cancer screening, don’t wait any longer. Schedule an appointment over the phone or online at Washington Internal Medicine for a well-woman exam today.