Why is screening for cervical cancer important?

Cytologic screening (Papanicolaou or Pap test) represents one of the most successful screening efforts of modern medicine. The death rates due to cervical cancer have substantially improved in adequately screened populations.

As compared to the days when a yearly Pap test was done, the introduction of HPV testing along with a Pap test (co-testing) has revolutionized cervical cancer screening. This combination testing has led to less frequent testing, while maintaining the benefits of finding cancer or pre-cancer with similar—or often better—success.

One additional benefit of the newer guidelines that incorporate co-testing (testing both Pap test and HPV) is fewer unnecessary treatments for mild Pap test abnormalities that have a very low likelihood of progressing to cancer. Such treatments can lead to unnecessary patient anxiety, excessive medical costs, and potential problems with cervical stenosis (scarring of the cervix) and future pregnancy complications (related to early delivery and/or early rupture of membranes).

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/05/2014.

References

  • Thomas C. Wright Jr, MD; L. Stewart Massad, MD; Charles J. Dunton, MD; Mark Spitzer, MD; Edward J. Wilkinson, MD; Diane Solomon, MD, for the 2006 American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology–sponsored Consensus Conference. 2006 Consensus Guidelines for the management of Women with Abnormal Cervical Cancer Screening Tests. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology; October 2007: 346-55.
  • Saslow D, Solomon D, Lawson HW, Killackey M, Kulasingam SL, Cain J, Garcia FA, Moriarty AT, Waxman AG, Wilbur DC, Wentzensen N, Downs LS Jr, Spitzer M, Moscicki AB, Franco EL, Stoler MH, Schiffman M, Castle PE, Myers ER; American Cancer Society; American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology; American Society for Clinical Pathology. American Cancer Society, American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, and American Society for Clinical Pathology screening guidelines for the prevention and early detection of cervical cancer. Am J Clin Pathol. 2012 Apr;137(4):516-42.
  • Danforth K, Im T, Whitlock E. Addendum to Screening for Ovarian Cancer: Evidence Update for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Reaffirmation Recommendation Statement. Release Date: April 2012
  • Well-woman visit. Committee Opinion No. 534. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol 2012;120:421–4.

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