Ann T. Moriarty, MD, FCAP, a practicing cytopathologist in Indianapolis, Ind.,and member of the College of American Pathologists, diagnoses cervical cancer everyday in the laboratory.
Dr. Moriarty, says,“No woman wants to hear the words, ‘you have cervical cancer,’ from her physician."
“Fortunately, excellent screening tests, such as the Pap test and the high risk HPV test, have made cervical cancer one of the most preventable cancers. In fact, since the introduction of Pap screening programs in the US, the number of cervical cancer cases has decreased by 70 percent,” added Dr. Moriarty.
Pathologists are physicians who screen for cervical cancer by examining cells under a microscope. Sometimes, called the “doctor’s doctor,” pathologists work closely with the other physicians on the patient care team to provide an accurate diagnosis and to determine if further testing is needed if cervical cancer is detected. They also help guide treatment.
Making Sense of it All
With the HPV vaccine and the use of HPV testing, cervical cancer screening guidelines have changed, leading to confusion over when and what test to have for cervical cancer screening.
Here’s what women need to know:
•Women who are sexually active should begin cervical cancer screening at age 21.
•Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every three years. HPV testing should not be used as a screening test in women between 21-29 years.
•Women between the ages of 30 and 65 may have a Pap test and an HPV test (called a co-test) every five years if the test results are normal. Alternatively, women of this age group may have a Pap test (without an HPV test) every three years
•Women over age 65 who have had regular screenings with normal results should not be screened for cervical cancer. Women who have been diagnosed with cervical pre-cancer should continue to be monitored and screened.
•The HPV vaccine is most effective when administered to children before they are sexually active (9-12 years). It protects both girls and boys. Parents should speak with their child’s pediatrician to find out what is right for their daughter or son.
•Ask your physician if your cervical cancer screening test will be performed by an accredited laboratory to ensure accurate test results. The CAP accredits more than 7,500 laboratories worldwide and employs standards that exceed U.S. government regulations.
“Regular cervical cancer screening can save a woman’s life,” said Dr. Moriarty. “It’s important for women to know the facts and to speak with their physicians about the timing and tests that are right for them.”