The Papanicolaou smear (Pap Test) is a test used to screen women for cervical cancer. Pap tests can find cervical cancer and precancerous cells in the early stages when cervical cancer can be treated. Cervical cancer screening has been effective in reducing the number of deaths from cervical cancer because of the high rate of catching the cancer before it enters into a deadly stage. All women over the age of 21 are encouraged to have a pap test annually to screen for cervical cancer as well as test for the human papillomavirus (HPV).
The number one risk factor for cervical cancer is infection with the HPV. HPV is spread by direct skin-to-skin contact, including sexual intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, or any other contact involving the genital area. Since HPV is transmitted by sexual contact, having multiple sex partners increases the risk for cervical cancer.
While cervical cancer is very rare in young women, those who are sexually active are encouraged to undergo cervical cancer screening annually. Even women who have had the vaccine for HPV will still need cervical cancer screening. While HPV increases the risk for cervical cancer, having multiple sexual partners increases the risk for cervical cancer on its own. Different infections and STDs can lead to cervical cancer, and the more sexual partners a woman has, the greater her chance is of developing cervical cancer.
Screening for cervical cancer is highly effective in catching the cancer before it is too late. Women who have a negative test do not need to be tested every year (unless their sexual habits change drastically within the year), but women who have ever had a positive test for HPV or cervical cancer will need to be screened on a yearly basis. Abstinence or having one sexual partner is still the best way to prevent cervical cancer that is caused by viruses and infections. Multiple sex partners increases the chance for cervical cancer and the need to be screened often.
Posted on behalf of Sean Lambert M.D., North Pointe OB/GYN Associates