What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical Cancer and Abnormal Pap Smears
One in 10 pap smears will have some abnormality, so don't panic if you get a call from your doctor's office asking you to return (but do go!). Most of the time abnormal results are due to collection errors, changes associated with inflammation, or a low-grade lesion. There are basically four stages of cervical disease as reported by the Pap smear:
1. Healthy - although inflammation or infection may be present, no
atypical cervical cells are noted. If you have inflammation or infection, your
doctor may recommend treatment and then repeat the Pap smear in 3-6 months.
2. Low-grade disease - which can include "ASCUS", "atypical squamous
cells of undetermined significance". If a Pap smear shows questionable or low-grade
changes, your doctor may recommend repeating your Pap in three to six months.
But if you've had a previous abnormal pap or a known sexually transmitted disease
including HPV, s/he may recommend further testing, including in-office examination
with a special magnifier called a colposcope. With the colposcope and a special
dye, your doctor can perform one or more small cervical biopsies of the abnormal
areas identified. This permits an accurate diagnosis and helps determine the
extent of any pre-cancerous changes.
3. Hi-grade disease - severe dysplasia, or "carcinoma in situ",
where abnormal cells are limited to the surface of the cervix. In this case,
conservative treatment is usually effective.
4. Invasive cancer - where cellular abnormalities are found deep in
the tissue of the cervix. In this case, hysterectomy is usually required.
The good news is that cervical cancer is preventable, treatable and curable if detected in its earliest stages. Cervical cancer is also generally a very slow growing cancer. When cervical cancer is detected at an early stage, the five-year survival rate is 91%. For those patients whose cervical cancers are not detected early, five compelling clinical studies this year support a new treatment strategy anticipated to cut the death rate in half- the recommendation is now to add chemotherapy to radiation after hysterectomy.
Dr. Donnica's Recommendations for More Information
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
College of American Pathologists
***For their free brochure about Pap Smears, call 1-800-LAB-5678
National Cervical Cancer Campaign
National Cervical Cancer Coalition
Created: 2/24/2000  - Donnica Moore, M.D.
Reviewed: 1/26/2005  - Donnica Moore, M.D.