Physician: Awareness, proactive screening has an impact on cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is the most common gynecologic cancer among women. The American Cancer Society estimates about 13,960 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed and about 4,310 women will die from cervical cancer in 2023.

Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women. Fortunately, according to the American Cancer Society, screenings, such as the HPV test and Pap test, have greatly improved cancer detection and treatment, and are playing a major role in lowering the death rate.

Screening Saves Lives

Cervical cancer is caused by abnormal cell growth in the tissues of the cervix and develops slowly. There are no typical signs or symptoms of cervical cancer, which is why screening is essential to early detection and treatment.

The best way to find cervical cancer early is to have regular screening tests. Regular screening has been shown to prevent cervical cancers and save lives. The tests for cervical cancer screening are the HPV test and the Pap test. These tests can be done alone or at the same time and are done during a pelvic exam.

  • A Pap (Papanicolaou) test is a procedure in which your doctor collects a small sample of cells from the surface of the cervix. The sample is then spread on a slide (Pap smear) or mixed in a liquid fixative (liquid-based cytology) and sent to a lab for examination under a microscope. The cells are examined for abnormalities that may point to abnormal cell changes, such as dysplasia or cervical cancer.

    According to the most recent guidelines, women should start to receive Pap smears every three years beginning at age 21, regardless of sexual activity. These guidelines are approved by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the United States Preventive Services Task Force, and the American Cancer Society.
  • A human papillomavirus (HPV) test is done to check for a high-risk HPV infection. Like a Pap test, an HPV test is done on a sample of cells collected from the cervix. This test is used to show whether a high-risk type of HPV is present. High-risk types of HPV (such as types 16, 18, 31, and 45) cause changes in the cells of the cervix that can be seen as abnormal changes on a Pap test. Abnormal cervical cell changes may get better on their own without treatment. But some cervical cell changes can progress to serious problems. They may lead to cervical cancer over time if they’re not treated. Most people don’t know they have an HPV infection.

The result of the HPV test, along with your past test results, determines your risk of developing cervical cancer. If the test is positive, this could mean more follow-up visits, more tests to look for a pre-cancer or cancer, and sometimes a procedure to treat any pre-cancers that might be found.

Because there are many different follow-up or treatment options depending on your specific risk of developing cervical cancer, it is best to talk to your healthcare provider about your screening results in more detail, to fully understand your risk of cervical cancer and what follow-up plan is best for you.

Be Proactive with Your Health

While you may not need a Pap test every year, there are plenty of reasons to check in with your doctor for an annual well-woman visit. Regularly seeing your gynecologist assures that you set the right schedule for health screenings and catches potential problems early.

In addition to annual visits, here are some important ways to be proactive about your health to help prevent and detect gynecologic cancers quickly: 

  • Pay attention to your body. Know what is normal for you and if a change occurs and lasts for more than two weeks, report it to your doctor promptly for further investigation. Keeping a health journal can help you create a baseline for what’s normal and track changes in your body.
  • Know your family history. Be proactive in discussing health in your family.
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices. In addition to maintaining a healthy weight, exercise regularly, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and don’t smoke.
  • Get the HPV vaccination. Some strains of HPV (human papillomavirus) can cause cervical cancer. Be sure to get the HPV vaccine if you fall within the recommended age groups as this vaccination reduces your risk for cervical cancer.

John Comerci, M.D., is with UPMC Magee-Womens in Williamsport and Lewisburg and sees patients at UPMC Health Innovation Center, 740 High St., Williamsport, and UPMC Outpatient Center, 2370 Old Turnpike Rd., Lewisburg. To make an appointment with Dr. Comerci at either location, call 570-321-3300. To learn more about UPMC Magee-Womens OB/GYN services, go to