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Screening statement for Patients


Screening for Cervical Cancer

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Overview of Screening
Cervical Cancer Screening
Changes to This Summary (06/10/2003)
Questions or Comments About This Summary
To Learn More
About PDQ

Overview of Screening

What is screening?

Screening for cancer is examination (or testing) of people for early stages in the development of cancer even though they have no symptoms. Scientists have studied patterns of cancer in the population to learn which people are more likely to get certain types of cancer. They have also studied what things around us and what things we do in our lives may cause cancer. This information sometimes helps doctors recommend who should be screened for certain types of cancer, what types of screening tests people should have, and how often these tests should be done. Not all screening tests are helpful, and most have risks such as surgical procedures on the cervix to investigate questionable abnormalities of the cervix. For this reason, scientists at the National Cancer Institute are studying many screening tests to find out how useful they are and to determine the relative benefits and harms.

If your doctor suggests certain cancer screening tests as part of your health care plan, this does not mean he or she thinks you have cancer. Screening tests are done when you have no symptoms. Since decisions about screening can be difficult, you may want to discuss them with your doctor and ask questions about the potential benefits and risks of screening tests and whether they have been proven to decrease the risk of dying from cancer.

If your doctor suspects that you may have cancer, he or she will order certain tests to see whether you do. These are called diagnostic tests. Some tests are used for diagnostic purposes, but are not suitable for screening people who have no symptoms.

Purposes of this summary

The purposes of this summary on cervical cancer screening are to:

You can talk to your doctor or health care professional about cancer screening and whether it would be likely to help you.

Cervical Cancer Screening

The uterine cervix is the lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb) that connects the uterus with the vagina. It is part of the female reproductive system.

Risk of cervical cancer

The number of new cases and deaths due to cervical cancer is decreasing each year.

Anything that increases a person’s chance of developing a disease is called a risk factor. Some of these risk factors for cervical cancer are as follows:

Age: Rates of cervical carcinoma in situ (cervical cancer that has not spread to other parts of the body) reach a peak in both black and white women between the ages of 20 and 30 years. After the age of 25 years, the number of cases of invasive cervical cancer increases with age in white women and black women, but it increases more rapidly in black women. The chance of dying of cervical cancer increases as women get older.

Pap Test (Smear) History: Women who have never had a Pap test or who have not had one for several years have a higher-than-average risk of developing cervical cancer.

HPV Infection: There are over 80 types of human papillomavirus (HPV). At least 2 dozen types are transmitted sexually and can infect the cervix. About half of these have been linked to cervical cancer. Cervical infection with HPV is the primary risk factor for cervical cancer. However, HPV infection is very common and only a very small percentage of women infected with untreated HPV will develop cervical cancer.

HIV Infection: Women who have been infected with HIV have a higher-than-average risk of developing cervical cancer.

Sexual History: Women who first had sexual intercourse at an early age or who have had many sexual partners have a higher-than-average risk of developing cervical cancer.

Screening test for cervical cancer

Pap Test (Smear): This test is performed during a regular office visit to a doctor. A doctor uses a wooden scraper and/or a small brush to collect a sample of cells from the cervix and upper vagina. These cells are placed on a slide and sent to a laboratory to check for abnormalities. Studies suggest that the death rate of cervical cancer will decrease if women who are or have been sexually active or who are in their late teens or older have regular Pap tests.

Changes to This Summary (06/10/2003)

The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.

Editorial changes were made to this summary.

Questions or Comments About This Summary

If you have questions or comments about this summary, please send them to Cancer.gov through the Web site’s Contact Form. We can respond only to email messages written in English.

To Learn More

Call

For more information, U.S. residents may call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Deaf and hard-of-hearing callers with TTY equipment may call 1-800-332-8615. The call is free and a trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.

Web sites and Organizations

The NCI's Cancer.gov Web site provides online access to information on cancer, clinical trials, and other Web sites and organizations that offer support and resources for cancer patients and their families. There are also many other places where people can get materials and information about cancer treatment and services. Local hospitals may have information on local and regional agencies that offer information about finances, getting to and from treatment, receiving care at home, and dealing with problems associated with cancer treatment.

Publications

The NCI has booklets and other materials for patients, health professionals, and the public. These publications discuss types of cancer, methods of cancer treatment, coping with cancer, and clinical trials. Some publications provide information on tests for cancer, cancer causes and prevention, cancer statistics, and NCI research activities. NCI materials on these and other topics may be ordered online or printed directly from the NCI Publications Locator. These materials can also be ordered by telephone from the Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237), TTY at 1-800-332-8615.

LiveHelp

The NCI's LiveHelp service, a program available on several of the Institute's Web sites, provides Internet users with the ability to chat online with an Information Specialist. The service is available from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. Information Specialists can help Internet users find information on NCI Web sites and answer questions about cancer.

Write

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About PDQ

PDQ is a comprehensive cancer database available on Cancer.gov.

PDQ is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. Most of the information contained in PDQ is available online at Cancer.gov, the NCI's Web site. PDQ is provided as a service of the NCI. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health, the federal government's focal point for biomedical research.

PDQ contains cancer information summaries.

The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries are available in two versions. The health professional versions provide detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions provide current and accurate cancer information.

The PDQ cancer information summaries are developed by cancer experts and reviewed regularly.

Editorial Boards made up of experts in oncology and related specialties are responsible for writing and maintaining the cancer information summaries. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made as new information becomes available. The date on each summary ("Date Last Modified") indicates the time of the most recent change.

PDQ also contains information on clinical trials.

People who are at high risk for a certain type of cancer may want to take part in a clinical trial. A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether a method of finding cancer earlier can help people to live longer. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients and those who are at risk for cancer. During screening clinical trials, information is collected about screening methods, the risks involved, and how well they do or do not work. If a clinical trial shows that a new method is better than one currently being used, the new method may become "standard."

Listings of clinical trials are included in PDQ and are available online at Cancer.gov. Descriptions of the trials are available in health professional and patient versions. Many cancer doctors who take part in clinical trials are also listed in PDQ. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237); TTY at 1-800-332-8615.

Physicians version: CDR0000062756
Date last modified: 2003-06-10

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Dr. G. Quade
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