But still some women put off getting pap smears, which can save a woman’s life, Haley said. A pap smear is included in a woman’s annual gynecological exam.
Amy Raines of Rome went 14 years between pap smears.
“I had no problems,” Raines said. “I had no reason to go.”
Raines’ test results came back positive for cancer. After five biopsies, Raines had surgery to remove the cancerous cells.
She won’t have to have radiation but she is not out of the woods yet. She must have two more pap smears within the next year that are clear to be declared completely cancer-free.
According to the National Cancer Institute, cervical cancer is a slow-growing cancer that usually does not produce symptoms, so it’s not unusual for women, like Raines, to be surprised when the pap smear shows cancer or pre-cancer because they are not likely having symptoms.
That’s why pap smears are so important, Haley said.
“A pap smear is simple and painless, but it is a very important tool to check for the presence of pre-cancerous or cancerous cells of the cervix, as well as the presence of certain infections,” Haley said. “Unlike other (gynecological) cancers, easy access to the cervix allows for easy screening and detection. In fact, the pap smear is the most successful screening test in history. There’s hardly anything easier that a woman can do that can have such an important positive impact on their overall health.”
The pap smear can also check for the presence of the Human Papilloma Virus, commonly called HPV, Haley said.
“This virus is sexually transmitted, and there are now over a 150 subtypes known,” Haley said. “The presence of HPV is important because it has been known for some time now that it is the culprit that causes the cells of the cervix to undergo cancerous changes.”
Haley said there have been recent suggestions by some organizations as to whether or not annual pap smears are necessary. Haley said all women should plan to have them.
“The most common time for a woman to be diagnosed with cervical cancer is in her mid 40s,” Haley said. “These guideline changes come up particularly for teenagers and for those 65 and over. It is important to note, however, that approximately 20 percent of cervical cancers occur in women over 65. As far as young women, they should get their first pap smear when they become sexually active, or when they reach 21, whichever comes first.”