Time to get it done!
What is the Cervix?
The cervix is located at the top of the vagina. It is the lowest part of the uterus and it has the opening in it (called the os) which allows menstrual blood to pass, semen to enter and, when pregnant, babies to deliver through during a vaginal birth.
There is an area at the opening of the cervix called the Transformation zone. This is the area where cervical cancers originate from and this is the area that is tested for HPV and abnormal cells when getting a Cervical Screening Test.
HPV - Human Papillomavirus
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that usually has no symptoms and often resolves without any treatment. It can be spread through intimate contact with the genital skin and can infect both men and women.
You may have been exposed to HPV if you have had only one sexual partner and while Condoms are largely protective they do not cover the entire genital skin and therefore do not prevent transmission completely.
Because of the changes in the cervical screening program many women who have been with one partner for years are discovering they have HPV. You may have contracted HPV many years ago and only discovered it now because we have not tested for it in the past.
The cancer council has published some statistics on HPV and found that it is responsible for:
- almost all cases of genital warts and cervical cancer
- 90% of anal cancers
- 65% of vaginal cancers
- 50% of vulvar cancers
- 35% of penile cancers
- 60% of oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).
The Cervical Screening Test changed in Australia in 2018 and this may have caused some confusion around when to get your next test performed. If you were due for a 2 yearly test you should still get this done and if it is normal then you can move to 5 yearly testing. If you are unsure when your test is due then ask your Doctor.
Cervical Screening Test
The Cervical Screening Test (CST) has replaced the Pap Smear. It allows screening for the HPV virus on the cervix before it causes changes to the cells of the cervix. This means earlier changes can be identified and when they are treated, less women will get cervical cancer.
From your perspective the test will seem unchanged in the way it is performed. A speculum examination is used to take a sample from the cervix and this is sent off to pathology for testing.
The result will identify it there are High Risk HPV types present, and then also look to see if the cells are abnormal.
If there is HPV present or abnormal cells you will be referred to a Gynaecologist to discuss further testing.
Visiting the Gynaecologist
It is recommended you see a Gynaecologist if you have an abnormal Cervical Screening Test (CST).
The Gynaecologist will explain the results of your CST and if required, will perform a colposcopy.
A colposcopy is where a speculum exam is performed and a specialised microscope is used to look at the cervix to identify any areas that need more testing.
Biopsy: Sometimes a small biopsy will need to be performed from the cervix to further test some cells. This may feel like a small pinching or cramping sensation, but often is not felt at all. The result from the biopsy usually returns between 1-2 weeks.
Warrnambool Obstetrics and Gynaecology perform colposcopy examinations and counselling at all of their clinics. We have a kind and relaxed approach and will make you as comfortable as possible during your procedure. If further treatment is required we will explain the process in detail and ensure any abnormal cervical cells are removed promptly.
There are different ways to treat abnormal cells on the cervix depending what the abnormality is.
In Australia the most common treatment is a Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP), Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone (LLETZ) or a Cone Biopsy.
A LLETZ is a type of LEEP procedure and it is designed to remove the abnormal superficial cells from the cervix.
A Cone Biopsy is used to remove cells that are deeper in the canal of the cervix, or if they have grown into the cervix.
If a treatment procedure is required your Gynaecologist will go through it in detail.
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