Among American women, cervical cancer is the 10th leading cause of cancer death. Each year more than 5,000 women still lose their lives to this disease, even though it is completely curable if it is detected early enough, reports CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay.
On The Early Show Wednesday, Dr. Senay talked about on a new experimental test for cervical cancer, as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Right now, the best test is the Pap smear, which has resulted in reducing the death rate from cervical cancer by about 70 percent to 80 percent in the last 50 years.
Despite the Pap smear's proven track record, many women are still not getting screened. The reasons are not fully understood, but it probably has a lot to do with the test itself and the reluctance of a woman to undergo the discomfort, embarrassment or hassle of the test. Economic, cultural and religious factors also come into play.
"Older women assume they don't need it after child-bearing years, which is not true," adds Dr. Senay. "But there's also this gap between what the gynecologist is doing and what the family physician is doing, and I think a lot of times family physicians assume women are getting this at their gynecologists when they're not getting it anywhere."
A Pap smear should be part of a routine exam, says the doctor. Recommended frequency depends on the woman. "If you're sexually active, once a year," advises Dr. Senay.
"Older women need to be getting them, and that's one area where the (new) test might be very effective. Older women who have high-risk strains of this virus could be followed more closely (as well as) women who don't have access or who don't want to have a Pap smear because of discomfort," she says.
The new experimental method enables a woman to test herself in the doctor's office when she goes for a check-up. A sample is sent to a lab for screening.
If one of the cancer-causing strains of the virus shows up, the woman goes on to a Pap test and other, more sophisticated tests. The self-test would get around some of the privacy and discomfort issues.
This experimental test will not replace the Pap smear. It's not yet widely available and still needs further study. Women should continue to have Pap tests.
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