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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.

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 Worldwide, cervical cancer affects 450,000 women per year and it is the third most common cancer to affect women in the world (after skin cancer and breast cancer) 

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