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Women can go three to five years in between cervical cancer tests

Category: Female Specific Tests

A new guideline issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests that women can wait three to five years in between Pap tests, which detect signs of abnormalities, including those induced by the human papillomavirus (HPV), the Washington Post reported.

The news source noted that these guidelines align with recommendations issued earlier this year from the American Cancer Society.

According to the Washington Post, ACOG and other medical groups suggest that women between 21 and 29 years old get a Pap test every three years, while women that are 30 to 65 years old can wait five years, as long as an additional Pap plus test, which is also used to screen for HPV, turns out normal. The reason for the extended time period between screenings is that even though HPV can cause cervical cancer, it is slow to progress and can easily be caught and treated before it becomes a problem. Also, HPV is extremely common in young women, but their bodies are usually able to rid themselves of the infection, so regular screenings would yield a significant number of false alarms.

Cervical cancer and HPV
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), cervical cancer, which can be detected with a lab test, is the third most common type of cancer in women. It starts in the cells on the surface of the cervix as dysplasia. It can be a precursor to cancer, but it is treatable, and cervical cancer most often develops in women who go longer than five years between Pap tests.

The NIH reports that nearly all cervical cancer is caused by HPV, which is contracted via sexual intercourse. Some strains of HPV can also cause genital warts, while others have no effect on the human body.

Some initial symptoms of cervical cancer include bleeding between periods or after intercourse, recurrent vaginal discharge and longer, heavier periods. The cancer can also spread to the bladder, intestines, lung and liver and may result in symptoms like back pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, pelvic pain, a single swollen leg and weight loss.

While Pap smears usually detect precancers and cancers, a subsequent colposcopy is needed to diagnose cervical cancer. During the procedure, a piece of the tissue is biopsied and sent to a laboratory to be examined.

Treatment of HPV depends on what stage the cancer is in, the size of the tumor, how old the patient is and her future plans to bear children.

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