Regular Pap tests and HPV vaccine are keys to cervical health
CORRECTION: In graf 3, sentence 1, "precancerous calls" was corrected to "precancerous cells."
DEAR DR. ROACH: Last year, I had an abnormal Pap smear. My follow-up colposcopy did not show anything. Two weeks ago, I had another abnormal Pap smear, and I am scheduled for another colposcopy next month. I am scared and nervous that precancerous cells will be found. I am 51 years old. -- O.K.
ANSWER: In the majority of cases of cervical cancer, the cells in the cervix go through a progression from normal to precancerous to invasive cancer. It takes a long time for precancerous cells to become cancerous -- seven years, on average, so there is plenty of time to find it and remove it before it becomes a problem. Very few women who get regular screenings will develop invasive cancer, and those few who do almost always are found in the very early stages of disease. Treatment at an early stage is effective and is much easier than treating more advanced cancer.
We already are seeing the incidence of precancerous cells and cervical cancer decreasing since the introduction of the HPV vaccine. I am hopeful that future generations of physicians will seldom or never see a case of cervical cancer. For years I have heard people wish for a vaccine against cancer. While cancer isn't one disease, there is a vaccine that can almost completely eliminate the risk for cervical cancer, so I strongly recommend it for females age 9-26. Males age 13-21 likely will reduce their risk for other kinds of cancer by getting the HPV vaccine, in addition to protecting their future partners.
You should go to the colposcopy, and I hope the results will be favorable.
READERS: The booklet on genital warts touches on cervical cancer. Readers can obtain a copy by writing:
Book No. 1202
628 Virginia Dr.
Orlando, FL 32803