March 1, 2012 -- Regular Pap tests can, and do, save the lives of women diagnosed with cervical cancer, a new study shows.
Women whose cervical cancers were found by a Pap test had a 92% cure rate. The cure rate fell to 66% among women who were diagnosed because of symptoms.
Even those women who had symptoms when they went for a regular Pap test had a better chance of beating the cancer than women who were overdue for their screening test when diagnosed. More than 75% of the 373 women who died had not had a Pap test during the recommended time frame.
The study included 1,230 women in Sweden diagnosed with cervical cancer between 1999 and 2001. They were screened by a routine Pap test or diagnosed as a result of symptoms. Symptoms of cervical cancer may include abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain during sex, and abnormal discharge that is tinged with blood between periods or after menopause.
Pap tests are more likely to find the cancers at an earlier and more treatable stage, the study authors conclude. The findings appear online in the journal BMJ.
During a Pap test, your doctor scrapes cervical cells and sends them off to a lab where they are analyzed for potentially cancerous or precancerous changes.
According to the American Cancer Society, all women should start getting regular Pap tests by the time they turn 21 or three years after they start having vaginal intercourse. All women should discuss the appropriate cervical cancer screening strategies with their doctor.