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OU Medicine Live Chat: Women's Health Screenings

Tuesday, July 09, 2013 - Campus News -

Most women know about the Pap test, which has helped dramatically reduced cervical cancer rates in the last fifty years.  Still, cervical cancer remains the second most common type of cancer and the third leading cause of cancer deaths among women, with many cases linked to genital infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV).

New screening guidelines from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommend that cervical screenings begin at age 21 and can be done every other year for women until the age of 30. After 30, the test can be done every three years if a woman has had three consecutive Pap tests with normal results. Of course, women at high risk will need for frequent screenings. Women older than 65 years of age should discuss with their doctor whether they continue to need to be screened.

Further reducing both incidence and mortality from cervical cancer has led to technologies that offer new screening techniques for cervical cancer, including high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) testing and liquid-based cytology (LBC).  The HPV test is done on a sample of cells collected from the cervix, just like a Pap test, but checks for genetic material (DNA) of the human papillomavirus. Liquid-based cytology is a technique for preserving and preparing cells collected from the cervix for laboratory evaluation. Instead of being spread on a slide, the cells are suspended in a vial of liquid preservative. In the laboratory, processing removes debris and place a thin layer of cells onto slides that are stained and read similar to conventional cytology.

Because many young women have HPV and some forms can lead to cervical cancer, the American Cancer Society and other groups recommend HPV testing along with the Pap test as important screening tools for cervical cancer in women over 30. The U.S. Preventive Task Force (USPSTF), on the other hand, recommends the Pap test as the best screening tool for cervical cancer and against the routine use of HPV testing. And the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists supports the use of all three techniques to increase early detection of cervical cancer. 

Experts with OU Medicine say each woman should arm herself with information and then discuss this important issue with her doctor to determine the best screening for her.

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