Dr Susanna Kent - Cervical Smears and Cervical Cancer -1 September
Cervical Cancer and Vaccination
In NZ every year there are 30000 abnormal cervical smears.
180 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 65 women die from this every year.
What causes Cervical Cancer?
It is not hereditary, unlike other cancers.
It is caused by a virus called the Human Papilloma virus. You cannot get cervical cancer unless you have first been infected with this virus.
What happens in Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer usually takes years to develop. It starts off with an infection with the HPV virus. This virus is sexually transmitted and most sexually active people are exposed to this virus at some stage in their lives.
After infection with the virus the person may get rid of it so it does not cause any problems. However if a woman does not get rid of the virus, she can go on to develop pre cancerous changes in her cervix such as CIN 1 and CIN 2.
After CIN 2 she can develop CIN 3 or cervical cancer.
Does the HPV virus also cause genital warts?
Yes it does. However there are many types of HPV virus and the types that cause genital warts are different to the types that cause cervical abnormalities.
Over the past few years there has been development of a vaccine to prevent infection with the hpv virus. This is now available and free to young women in NZ, it is called Gardasil. Gardasil, protects against 2 types of HPV that cause cervical cancer and 2 types that cause genital warts.
It is still essential for all women to have regular smear tests, regardless if they have had the vaccine or not.
It is recommended that all women who are sexually active have a
cervical smear every 3 years. This is up until the age of 70!
It includes lesbian women and women who may no longer be sexually active.
Women who have never had any sexual contact do not need to have smears.
If you have had a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) then you do not need to have a smear unless your uterus and cervix were removed because of cancer.
What does the test involve?
The best time to have a test is about 2 weeks after your period has started.
The test involves lying on your back and having a speculum (usually warmed!) placed inside the vagina. The speculum is opened to see the cervix and a small brush or spatula is used to take cells from the cervix. Then the brush is wiped over a glass slide or put into a pot of liquid and sent to the laboratory.
If you feel embarrassed or nervous about having a smear you can take someone with you or some women like to cover their faces with a sheet.
You can have these smears done at your local doctor, Family Planning Clinic, marae-based clinic or Pacific Health Service.
You need to remember that cervical smears are a screening test, i.e. looking to prevent cancer in healthy women. If you have any symptoms such as bleeding after intercourse, unusual discharge of bleeding after menopause then you need to get checked by your doctor.