Evolving Screening and Treatment to Eliminate Cervical Cancer
Tests for cervical cancer have drastically changed women’s lives. The number of women diagnosed with cervical cancer per year has dropped 50 percent since 1975.
Today, cervical cancer is largely preventable. The reason for this change is screening. Screening is a test for cervical cancer or signs of abnormal cells. Cervical cancer testing begins at age 21.
How Is Cervical Cancer Screening Done?
How is cervical cancer screening done, is a common question among young women. Cervical cancer tests are done before a patient has any symptoms. Abnormal cells may be prevented from becoming cancerous, and cancer treatment is more successful when diagnosis occurs at an early stage.
There are two major types of cervical cancer tests:
- The Pap test. Also known as a Pap smear or cervical cancer smear test, the Pap test is most commonly used in all ages of healthy women. During this test, your doctor uses a brush or small wooden stick to scrape cells from the cervix gently. The cells are placed on a slide to be viewed under a microscope.
- HPV Test. After an abnormal Pap test, an HPV test might be ordered. HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, is the biggest risk for cervical cancer. The HPV test is a laboratory test that checks DNA or RNA for strains of the Human Papillomavirus that lead to cervical cancer. Sometimes, the HPV test is done with the Pap test. Doctors determine what test is right for you based on your age and risk factors.
HPV hereditary cervical cancer makes up the majority of all cervical cancer cases. However, cervical cancer not caused by HPV does happen.
Recent guidelines to make cervical cancer testing more effective is with use of HPV testing. Reducing HPV hereditary cervical cancer reduces the number of all cases. The cervical cancer smear test (Pap test) helps diagnose cervical cancer not caused by HPV.
HPV and cervical cancer screening are directly related to the decreasing number of women being affected by the disease. Previously, one of the most common cancers among women, it is now down to number 14.
If your doctor determines you have cancer, more tests will be done to determine how advanced the disease has become. Your cancer’s stage determines how to proceed with treatment.
- Stage I: Cancer is only present in the cervix.
- Stage II: Cancer is present in the upper portion of the vagina.
- Stage III: Cancer has spread to the lower vagina or internally to the pelvic wall.
- Stage IV: Cancer has spread to nearby organs or other parts of the body.
Cervical Cancer Treatment
- Surgery. Surgery can be used in the early stages to remove cancerous tissue.
- Radiation Therapy. Radiation therapy uses high energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells. Radiation may be used before surgery or given alone.
- Chemo for cervical cancer. Chemotherapy uses drugs to eradicate cancer cells. Chemo for cervical cancer is given intravenously (IV). Low dose chemo is often combined with radiation to treat early stages. It’s sometimes used after surgery to be sure all cancer cells are removed. Higher doses of chemo may be used to treat cervical cancer that has come back.
- Immunotherapy for cervical cancer. Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. Cancer works by imitating regular cells and tricking the immune system. Immunotherapy helps the immune system recognize and destroy cancer cells. While it is a relatively new treatment, immunotherapy for cervical cancer shows promise in treating recurring cancer after chemo.
HPV and cervical cancer screening developed since the 1950s has saved thousands of lives. Cervical cancer treatment shows the same promise. Today’s advancements in chemo for cervical cancer and immunotherapy for cervical cancer show hope of saving the lives of patients diagnosed with the disease.