Why a Pap Smear Might Not Catch All Cervical Cancers

Most women are familiar with the Pap smear, also known as the pap test. Most of us are also aware that the main goal of the Pap smear is to identify cancerous or abnormal cells that may turn into cancer after collecting them from the lining of the cervix. However, based on findings recently published in the International Journal of Cancer, Pap smears may not be the most reliable way to pinpoint cancer types that can often be harder to detect.

According to Kevin Ault, MD, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Emory’s School of Medicine and Winship Cancer Institute, the Pap smear is not always effective in the diagnosis of adenocarcinoma. Ault came to this conclusion after conducting a post-hoc analysis of Gardasil vaccine trials. Adenocarcinoma is a type of cervical cancer that begins significantly far up the cervical canal, an area that often is not sampled when a Pap smear is conducted.

Andenocarcinoma is the second most common type of cervical cancer, accounting for about 20 percent of all cervical cancer cases. While the overall incidence rate of cervical cancer is on the decline, Ault reports the proportion of andenocarcinoma cervical cancer is rising.

As the 8th most common type of cancer in American women, more than 12,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer are diagnosed each year. Scientists believe that pre-invasive cervical cancer may develop over a period of months or years after the cervix is infected with the sexually transmitted HPV.

A leading expert and pioneer in the field of human papilloma virus (HPV), Ault suggests women might seek an HPV and Pap test at the same time. Why? A positive HPV test may be an indicator for early stages of adenocarcinoma cervical cancer that can’t be determined via a standard Pap test.

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