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January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

PHILADELPHIA (January 3, 2002) — January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and the physicians at Fox Chase Cancer Center want to remind women to visit their gynecologist annually for a routine check-up and tests. One such test, a Pap smear, is an important tool used in preventing cervical cancer.

The American Cancer Society has made new recommendations regarding pap smears that may change who and how often women should be tested.

Pap tests examine cells from the cervix under a microscope. Doctors look for any abnormal cells and any changes in cells that may lead to cervical cancer. These "pre-cancerous" cells can be removed and/or treated and prevent cancer from developing.

"Pap tests are the best method for detecting abnormal cervical cells," says Mitchell Edelson, M.D., a gynecologic surgeon at Fox Chase Cancer Center "While the Pap test isn't perfect, it provides us with a tool to help prevent cervical cancer. It is most effective at detecting abnormal cell changes when the test is repeated regularly, according to the American Cancer Society guidelines."

The suggestions from the American Cancer Society are as follows:

  • Cervical cancer screening should begin approximately three years after a woman begins having vaginal intercourse, but no later than the age of 21.
  • Cervical screening should be done every year with regular Pap tests or every two years using liquid-based tests. At or after age 30, women who have had three normal test results in a row may get screened every 2-3 years. But doctors may suggest getting the test more often if a woman has certain risk factors such as HIV infection or a weak immune system.
    • Women 70 years of age and older who have had three or more normal Pap tests and no abnormal Pap tests in the last 10 years may choose to stop cervical cancer screening.
    • Screening after total hysterectomy (with removal of the cervix) is not necessary unless the surgery was done as a treatment for cervical cancer or precancer. Women who have had a hysterectomy without removal of the cervix should continue cervical cancer screening at least until age 70.

Along with the new guidelines, there are steps women can take to have the most accurate PAP test possible.

  • Try not to schedule an appointment for a time during the menstrual period.
  • Do not douche for 48 hours prior to the test.
  • Do not have sexual intercourse 48 hours before the test.
  • Do not use tampons, birth control foams, jellies, or other vaginal creams or vaginal medications for 48 hours before the test.

"While the recommendations for pap smears have changed , it is still important for women to visit their gynecologist every year," explained Edelson. "If women follow the screening guidelines, we have a better chance of catching pre-cancerous conditions before they develop into cervical cancer."

Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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