Cervical cancer screening is used to find changes in the cells of the cervix that could lead to cancer. Screening includes the Pap test and, for some women, testing for human papillomavirus (HPV). Most women should have cervical cancer screening on a regular basis.

Why Cervical Cancer Screening Is Done

The cervix is the opening of the uterus at the top of the vagina. It is covered by a thin layer of tissue. This tissue is made up of cells. As these cells develop, the cells at the bottom layer slowly move to the surface of the cervix. During this process, some cells may become abnormal or damaged. Abnormal cells on the cervix may lead to cancer. These precancerous changes are call dysplasia or squamous intraepithelial lesions  (SIL). SIL can be either low-grade (mild dysplasia) or high-grade (moderate or severe dysplasia).

Screening tests are used to find diseases in people who do not have signs or symptoms. This allows early treatment. The earlier cancer is treated, the greater the chance of survival. Cervical cancer screening is used to detect abnormal cervical cells. It allows early diagnosis and treatment so that the abnormal cells do not become cancer.

How Cervical Cancer Screening Is Done

Cervical cancer screening includes the Pap test and, for some women, and HPV test:

  • The Pap test involves removing a small sample of the cells from the cervix. The sample is sent to a lab and examined under a microscope to see if abnormal cells are present.
  • An HPV test looks for the presence of 13-14 high-risk HPV types in cells of the cervix. HPV is a virus. High-risk types can lead to cervical cancer. HPV is passed from person to person during sexual activity.

Cervical cancer screening is simple and fast. It takes less than a minute to do. For a Pap test, you lie on an exam table and a speculum is used to open the vagina. This device gives a clear view of the cervix and upper vagina. A small number of cells are removed from the cervix with a brush or other tool. The calls are put into a liquid and sent to a lab for testing. A computer may be used to look or abnormal cells. For an HPV test, usually the sample taken for the Pap test also can be used for the HPV test. Sometimes two cell samples are taken. It depends on the type of Pap test your healthcare provider uses.

Routine screening can help find problems early when they are more easily treated. Contact us for any questions or to set up an appointment.