Cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer diagnosed in women. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 14,000 new cases of cervical cancer will have been diagnosed in the United States by the end of 2021. Additionally, nearly 4,300 women will die of this disease during 2021. The best way to prevent this outcome is to diagnose cervical cancer as early as possible, and it’s important to get cervical cancer tests and screening according to guidelines.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about cervical cancer tests at STDWatch.com.
What is a cervical cancer test?
Cervical cancer testing is mainly used to screen for precancerous and early cancerous changes in your cervix. These changes are typically present long before a woman starts showing any symptoms of cancer, and they can help detect the disease early so it can be treated more effectively.
Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are preceded by a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, so it’s also very important to diagnose these infections early to prevent them from progressing to cervical cancer.
Types of cervical cancer tests
There are different types of tests that can be used to screen for cervical cancer and confirm the diagnosis. The most common type of cervical cancer test is a Pap smear, which is widely used for screening around the world. Depending on your Pap smear results, your doctor could order more specialized tests.
There are four types of cervical cancer tests including:
- Pap smears
- HPV test
- Cervical biopsies
Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of cervical cancer tests.
Pap smears or Pap tests are screening tests that look for precancerous and early cancerous changes in the cells of your cervix. According to the Mayo Clinic, this test involves collecting a small sample of cells from your cervix. Then, these cells are analyzed under a microscope to look for abnormalities. Cervical cancer usually takes years to develop, so if your Pap smear results are normal, your chances of developing cervical cancer in the near future will typically be very low.
A primary HPV test looks for the presence of the human papillomavirus inside the cells of the cervix. This test uses the same type of sample as a Pap smear; in fact, both tests are often carried out at the same time to avoid the need for multiple sample collection.
This test specifically looks for high-risk strains of HPV that are more likely to cause cancer in the future. HPV tests can be carried out on their own or along with a Pap smear.
Your doctor could recommend a colposcopy if they notice any concerning signs during previous cervical cancer screening tests. A colposcope is an instrument that has magnifying glasses that will help your doctor examine your cervix more closely.
During a colposcopy, this instrument will be used to look at your cervix, and certain solutions may be applied to the tissue so certain areas are easier to see. If necessary, a biopsy may be taken during a colposcopy so the tissue can be examined, according to the American Cancer Society.
A cervical biopsy is a procedure in which a small sample of tissue is removed from your cervix and sent to a lab to identify cancerous or precancerous cells,
There are different types of procedures that can be done to get a cervical biopsy, and your doctor will recommend the right type for you based on previous findings and your personal history. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, some types of cervical biopsy include:
- Punch biopsy
- Cone biopsy
- Electrical wire loop
- Endocervical curettage (ECC)
If the results of the biopsy indicate the presence of cancer, further imaging tests (such as X-rays, MRI, or CAT scans) will probably be necessary to stage the disease. In this scenario, your healthcare team should guide you throughout the entire process.
Who needs to get a cervical cancer test?
According to the CDC, all sexually active women should start getting Pap smears at the age of 21. However, these guidelines can change in different countries. If your Pap test results are normal, your doctor could recommend waiting three years between tests. As long as your tests remain normal, you will probably only need to get Pap smears between the ages of 21 to 29.
Women aged 30 to 65 can get different screening tests, depending on the previous results and personal history. These recommendations include:
- Pap test every three years
- HPV test every five years
- Pap test and HPV test co-testing every five years
If you receive altered results, your doctor will discuss the next steps with you. Women who are 65 years old and older may not need to get cervical cancer screening anymore, as long as their previous results have been normal — but this should always be discussed with your doctor first.
Thinking about cervical cancer can make anyone feel anxious, but in reality, an early diagnosis is the best way to keep yourself safe and healthy. Simple tests, such as Pap smears and HPV screening, can make a huge difference in the number of cases of cervical cancer around the world. To lower your risk of this disease, it’s important to attend regular OB-GYN checkups and get tested for HPV (and other STDs!) regularly if you’re sexually active. You can learn more about STD testing at STDWatch.com.
- Key Statistics for Cervical Cancer - cancer.org
- Pap smear - mayoclinic.org
- Tests for Cervical Cancer - cancer.org
- Cervical Biopsy - hopkinsmedicine.org
- What Should I Know About Screening? - cdc.gov