How curable is cervical cancer? One hundred percent if detected early enough. And radiation and chemotherapy are not necessary for the most common form of cervical cancer. The key to detecting cervical cancer before its too late, is a regular visit to your gynecologist for a Pap test. Yet half of all women over the age of sixty five have not had a Pap test in over three years. Thats especially tragic because women sixty five years and older account for nearly 25 percent of all cervical cancer cases and 41 percent of cervical cancer deaths in the United States.Many older women experience barriers to regular Pap test screening, which often include any of the following: lack of knowledge about testing frequency; anxiety that the test might be painful or embarrassing; underestimation of personal risk for cervical cancer; fear of test results; language and cultural barriersA Pap test is a short, relatively painless and fairly inexpensive test for any cellular changes in the cervix. If the smear is positive, the doctor will immediately do another smear to verify the first one. If the initial result is confirmed, the gynecologist must then determine how much the cells have changed by performing a biopsy, another office procedure that involves snipping off some cervical tissue for future analysis. To get tissue from the most affected part, gynecologists now use a sophisticated instrument called a colposcopy, which provides a magnified, well-lit view of the suspicious area of the cervix.
If the examination discloses an early stage of cancerous tissue in a relatively well-defined area of the cervix, the doctor can destroy it completely with a procedure called cryosurgery during which the abnormal cells are frozen and slough off. Like a simple biopsy, both the examination and the freezing procedure can be done in the doctors office.
The Pap smear is the crucial step in preventing cervical cancer. Older women should have a Pap test at least once every three years. The test is effective, and cervical cancer can be totally curable. There are recent advances in Pap test technology which are under evaluation and may improve the test's sensitivity.
Women and health care providers can call the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service (CIS) at 1-800-4-CANCER to find out the latest, most accurate information about cervical cancer and cervical cancer screening. The CIS also provides referrals for free and low-cost cervical cancer screening through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (BCCEDP).
Robin Westen is ThirdAges medical reporter. Check her daily updates. She is the author of Ten Days to Detox: How to Look and Feel a Decade Younger.
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