Should you be screened for cervical cancer?

Posted on 30 August 2017

The cervix is a key component in menstruation and childbirth. Situated at the lower end of the uterus, it acts as a passageway to the vagina. And while changes in cervical cells over time are commonplace, some abnormalities can in fact be precursors to cancer.

‘Cervical cancer remains the most prevalent form of cancer affecting women today,’ says Dr Izak Loftus, a specialist in histopathology. ‘The majority of these cases are in the form of either squamous cell carcinoma or adenocarcinoma. Sexually transmitted infections like Human Papillomavirus can act as precursors to these cancers, so early detection is a key preventative measure.’

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common form of sexually transmitted infection. While the majority of HPV infections are relatively low in risk, a few persistent types are invasive in that they cause cell abnormalities, or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) and require further intervention.

‘Regular checks in the form of specialist testing are critical,’ Loftus explains. ‘The Pap smear, or Pap test, is the standard form of cervical screening. Screening should start from 21 years old, or one year after initial sexual intercourse. A combination of the Pap smear and HPV-testing is recommended from 30 years onward. And while co-testing generally ceases after the age of 65, women with a history of cell abnormalities should continue with routine screening for at least another 20 years.

Loftus offers the following basic guidelines to optimal screening frequency:

– Pap smear: 2-3 year intervals
– HPV-testing: 3-5 year intervals

‘Every patient is different,’ he continues. ‘Ultimately, the doctor decides on the frequency of testing. For example, somebody who has been sexually active in their teenage years would likely have a different testing requirement. A patient’s age, testing preference as well as the strength of their immune system all factor into this equation. Frequency of screening is therefore not an exact science.’

Published in gynaecology

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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