Routine check-ups and exams are important to maintain good health. Annual exams, which include a pap smear and breast exam, may help identify any abnormalities. Early diagnosis is an important factor in successful treatment.
The Pap smear is a test that examines cells collected from the cervix. Its main purpose is to screen for cervical cancer, although it can also detect pre-cancerous cellular changes and HPV. Dr. George Papanicolaou developed the Pap smear in the 1940's, and since then, deaths from cervical cancer have decreased by 70%.
How a Pap smear is performed:
Surface cells from the cervix are collected with a small brush. The test takes only a few minutes to perform and should not be painful.
Why Pap smears are important:
- Early detection of cellular changes of the cervix is critical for successful treatment.
- Although some cellular changes detected by a Pap smear can be normal, it is important to monitor these changes for any cancerous activity.
- Cervical abnormalities leading to cancer usually have no noticeable symptoms.
How often women should get a Pap smear:
- Women should have their first pap smear three years after they become sexually active, or when they reach the age of 21 (which ever comes first).
- During their teens and twenties most women need a pap smear every year.
- As women get a bit older they may be able to decrease the frequency of their pap smears.
- If you have had an abnormal Pap smear in the past, your health practitioner may recommend more frequent Pap smears.
For more information on Pap smears and cervical cancer:
The College of American Pathologists has a web site that offers information about pap smears and cervical cancer, and an email reminder service: www.myhealthtestreminder.com/
The American Society of Cytopathology website has concise information about what every woman should know about pap smears: /www.cytopathology.org/website/article.asp?id=69
The National Women's Health Information Center has a website containing frequently asked questions and answers with links to related topics: www.4woman.gov/faq/pap.htm
The National Cancer Institute has a website that provides extensive information about cervical cancer: cancernet.nci.nih.gov
The Cervical Cancer Resource Center is the website from the American Cancer Society that provides thorough information and the latest in detection and treatment: www.cancer.org/cancerinfo/res_home.asp?ct=8
The American Medical Women's Association has a website about the National Cervical Cancer Education Campaign, which is a partnership among many organizations. It also has answers to frequently asked questions about cervical cancer: www.cervicalcancercampaign.org/
Breast cancer is caused by a malignant tumor in the breast tissue. A tumor is a lump of cells. Most breast lumps are benign (not cancer), but some are malignant (cancerous). Most cases of breast cancer happen in women who do not have a family history of breast cancer or other known risk factors.
Some facts about breast cancer:
- Breast cancer occurs in about 1 out of 8 women.
- Early detection is key to successful treatment.
- About 185,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year.
- Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women between the ages of 35-54.
Get yearly breast exams, report any breast lumps or changes to your practitioner, and if you are over 40, yearly mammograms are encouraged.