Detecting Cervical Cancer
Approximately 11,000 American women will develop cervical cancer each year. Cervical cancer typically develops slowly and is often asymptomatic. It is almost always caused by a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, and can be detected with regular Pap smear tests.
When a doctor performs a Pap smear, he or she takes samples of the cervical cells to send for analysis. The cervix is the lower end of the uterus and is located at the back of the vagina. It is approximately 1-inch in diameter, circular in shape and covered by a thin layer of cells.
Abnormal pap smears indicate changes in the cervical cells and are fairly common, and can be caused by bacterial, yeast and viral infections -- including HPV -- and pregnancy.
Healthy cervical cells Cancerous/abnormal/dysplasic cells
An abnormal Pap smear can also indicate cellular changes that may lead to cancer, one of the reasons doctors recommend having one performed annually.
“Cervical cancer can be prevented and cured with early screening tests like Pap smears and colposcopies,” OB/GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson says.
Doctors perform a colposcopy as a follow-up to an abnormal Pap smear. The colposcopy is a diagnostic procedure in which a camera inserted into the vaginal canal illuminates and magnifies the cells of the cervix, vulva and vagina.
Both a diagnostic and treatment tool, a colposcopy allows doctors to remove abnormal cells and biopsy them in one step.
Dr. Lisa performs a real-time colposcopy.