When Should Young Women Start Getting Pap Smears?

5461276006_df3a5a44b8_zCervical cancer was once the number one cancer killer, but with the introduction of the Pap smear almost 60 years ago, this cancer has become increasingly rare.  The guidelines for cervical cancer screening are always evolving, and the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP) has been at the forefront of these changes.

The relationship between high-risk HPV (human papillomavirus) and the development of pre-cervical and cervical cancer has been well established.  Thankfully, most HPV infections are short-lived and not detected within 1-2 years.  Only a small percentage of infected women will go on to develop a high-grade cervical abnormality or cervical cancer.

More than 80% of all women will develop a genital HPV infection by the time they reach the age of 50.  HPV infections are the most common in young women, and again, these infections are cleared by most young women in less than two years.

We now have a good understanding of the natural history of HPV infections and the development of cervical cancer and the pre-cancers.  ASCCP’s guidelines advise that cervical cancer screening should begin at age 21 regardless of the age of sexual initiation.  Since most of the infections in the young will regress, starting a screening program at an earlier age may result in many unnecessary treatment interventions.

Remember to always discuss your particular concerns and develop your individual screening program with your healthcare professional.

-Dr. P

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Some Points You May Not Know About HPV

Let us continue our HPV informational journey with a few essential points:

  • HPV infections are almost exclusively acquired from sexual exposure.Some Points You May Not Know About HPV
  • The virus has been detected in multiple sites on both the male and female genital areas.
  • The cervix is the most common site for the infection.
  • Transmission between the mother and infant has been documented, with exposure during the delivery being suggested as the most common cause of the fetal infection.  This is considered a vertical form of transmission.  Some studies suggest a vertical transmission rate of about 25% with almost all neonatal infections cleared by the first year of life.

-Dr. P

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What Other Issues Can HPV Cause?

It was not until the early 1980s that the association HPV Researchbetween the human papillomavirus (HPV) and genital tract infections became apparent.  A German research physician had isolated the HPV 16 and implicated its role in the development of cervical cancer, so a new scientific journey had begun.

We now know that the persistence of an HPV infection is necessary for the development of cervical cancers, and it is implicated in the majority of other genital tract infections in both men and women.  It is time to start our journey to a better understanding of a virus that affects so many of us!

Click here to continue to: Some Points You May Not Know About HPV

-Dr. P

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