Cervical cancer study shows Pap tests boost survival chances

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(CBS News) Women are more likely to survive cervical cancer if it was diagnosed through a Pap smear test, according to a new study.

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The study is the first to estimate the chances of surviving cervical cancer, according to the authors. For the study, Swedish researchers tracked 1230 women who were diagnosed with cervical cancer between 1999 to 2001. The researchers tracked the women for an average follow-up of 8.5 years, and found women whose cancers were found by the Pap test had a 92 percent cure rate, while women who were diagnosed because of their symptoms only had a 66 percent cure rate.

During the course of the study, 373 women died. Of those women, 75 percent were not screened for cervical cancer with a Pap test. The study is published in the March 1 issue of the British Medical Journal.

"Regular Pap screening does not just prevent cancer by looking for precursors, but it also increases the possibilities of cure if the cancer is detected during screening," study author Dr. Bengt Andrae, a cancer researcher at Uppsala University in Stockholm, told HealthDay. "We can say the benefit of Pap smear screening is real."

"Even if you have not gone to cervical screening before, go when you are invited because you have a much better prognosis than waiting for the symptoms to appear," Andrae told BBC News.

Nearly 12,200 American women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year, according to the National Cancer Institute. More than 4,200 women are expected to die from the disease in 2012. Symptoms of cervical cancer may include abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, possibly after sex, according to the CDC.

How often should a woman get screened for cervical cancer? Recommendations vary.

According to American Cancer Society Guidelines, All women should begin cervical cancer screening about 3 years after they begin having sex, but no later than 21 years old. Screening should be done every year with the regular Pap test or every 2 years using the newer liquid-based Pap test, the society says. Beginning at age 30, women who have had 3 normal Pap test results in a row may get screened every 2 to 3 years. BBC News reported the Swedish cervical screening program invites women aged 23-50 to attend every three years and women aged 51-60 to get a Pap test every five years.

Last year, an advisory panel to the government, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, recommended against yearly Pap tests, saying they could do more harm than good, HealthPopreported. The panel said the more tests a person gets may result in unnecessary biopsies. Check with your doctor to find out more about cervical cancer screening.

The American Cancer Society has more on cervical cancer.

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