5 Lifesaving Tests for Women
WebMD ranks the top five lifesaving health tests every woman needs.
No. 2 The Power of the Pap Test
Starting three years after becoming sexually active or by age 21, whichever
comes first, women need an annual Pap test to detect any abnormal cell changes
that could lead to cervical
cancer. During a Pap test, a small sample of cells from the surface of the
cervix is taken and examined for abnormalities that may indicate cancer or
changes that could lead to cancer.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that the Pap test be done
annually until age 30. After 30, if a healthy woman has had three completely
normal Pap tests in a row, she can have a Pap test every two to three years
(but should still see a gynecologist every year for an exam). Cervical cancer
was once the leading cause of death for women in the U.S., but the widespread
use of the Pap test has significantly decreased deaths from this cancer.
But there's more. A human papillomavirus (HPV) test may be done as follow-up
to an abnormal Pap test, says Phyllis Greenberger, MSW, president and CEO of
the Society for Women's Health Research based in Washington, D.C. HPV is a
common sexually transmitted infection that is the main cause of cervical
cancer. An HPV test can help determine whether one or more high-risk types of
HPV caused the abnormal Pap test result.
"If you are younger than 30, it's recommended you have the HPV test if
your Pap smear test detects abnormal cells or is unclear, and if you are 30 or
older, experts recommend you have the HPV test at the same time as your Pap
test," she says.
There is also an HPV vaccine, Gardasil, to help prevent cervical cancer. The
CDC recommends the vaccine for 11- and 12-year-old girls, but it can be given
as young as age 9. The HPV vaccine is also recommended for girls and women aged
13 to 26 who have not been previously vaccinated or did not receive the
complete vaccine series. Recent research suggests that Gardasil offers
protection against viruses that cause 90% of cervical cancers.