There are many different approaches to examine issues about cervical health. In this blog we will discuss the Pap smear, viruses, and sexually transmitted infections.
Pap smears the typical method of cervical cancer screening. Pap smears are a method of reviewing current cervical health by looking at cells which have been taken from the cervix and vagina and are examined under a microscope. Pap smears are done to determine the presence of healthy cells, and to determine the presence of something that may be abnormal and, perhaps, precancerous.
For some women, testing is also used to detect the presence or absence of human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is a virus that invades cells and can cause them to change. Some types of HPV are linked to cervical cancer as well as other cancers. The 15 or so HPVs that are associated with cancer are called high-risk HPV. The majority of the cases with HPV exposure will not cause cancer.
Once a high-grade or high risk HPV invades a cervical cell, it may take from 3-7 years for these high-grade changes in cervical cells to become cancer. Cervical cancer screenings may detect these changes before they become cancer, and the high-grade changes can get treatment to remove the cells.
The frequency of Pap smear testing and HPV testing is different depending upon the age of the woman. Currently, women age to 21-29 should have a Pap smear test completed every 3 years. HPV testing is not recommended. Women age 30-65 should have a Pap smear and an HPV test done every 5 years. This is called "co-testing". After age 65, if all Pap smears and HPV tests have been negative, no further cervical cancer screening is recommended. There are some exceptions, and your healthcare provider can explain those to you.
Another issue impacting cervical health are sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STI's are spread by sexual contact. STI's can cause severe damage to the body, even death. Except for cold and flu, STI's are the most common infections in the United States. Some STI's can be treated and cured, others cannot. Some STI's are discovered by doing cultures of the cervix. STI's caused by bacteria can be successfully treated with antibiotics in many cases. STI's caused by viruses cannot be cured by antibiotics. However, the immune system can help the body get rid of the infection and the symptoms can be treated.
Risk factors for STI's include: having more than one sexual partner; having a partner who has more than one sexual partner; having sex with someone who has an STI; having a history of STI themselves; or use of intravenous drugs or a partner who uses intravenous drugs.
Women's healthcare providers are consulted frequently by patient's about sexual health and are in a unique position to open a dialogue on sexual health issues. Talk with your healthcare provider to see which vaccinations, tests, and exams might be recommended for you.
We would welcome any questions regarding the issues discussed in this blog. If you would like more information, please make an appointment with any of the providers at CCMH and we will be delighted to help work through these issues with you.
Karl Hasik, MD, OB-GYN, FACOG