Just in time for Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, researchers have discovered even more reason for women to regularly undergo the test that’s become synonymous with the disease – the Pap smear.
The Pap smear is currently recommended every two to three years (or more often if abnormal) for women between the ages of 21 and 65. During the test, the doctor collects cell samples and mucus from the cervix and surrounding area which are then sent to the laboratory to be tested for precancers or abnormalities. The samples can also be tested for human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that can cause cervical cancer.
When administered as recommended, the test has been proven effective in preventing up to 90 percent of the most common type of cervical cancer, and has been credited with lowering the death rate in the US by about two percent each year. However, cervical cancer still affects approximately 13,000 women in the US each year and kills about 4,000 – most of whom have never had a Pap smear, or have not had one within three to five years.
So, it’s imperative that women receive Pap smears on a regular basis for the best shot at catching cervical cancer at an early enough stage that it can be treated successfully. However, recent research suggests that the test can also help to identify ovarian and uterine cancers as well.
Researchers analyzed Pap smear samples taken from ovarian and uterine cancer patients and were able to identify the genetic mutations in every sample taken from uterine cancer patients and in many of the samples from ovarian cancer patients. Scientists believe this was possible because the cancerous cells were shed from the ovaries or uterus into the cervix.
While these additional cancer analyses are not yet standard during Pap smears, these study results are promising, particularly when it comes to ovarian cancer as there are no obvious symptoms or reliable tests for that disease.
Researchers are going to repeat their experiment on hundreds more women, including those who haven’t been diagnosed with cancer, in order to establish the reliability of the results. They anticipate that it will then be made available to all women undergoing a Pap smear for an additional cost of $75.
Have you been diagnosed early thanks to a Pap smear? Tell us your story!
Sources: sciencenews.org, nccc-online.org, and cdc.gov