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Diagnostic tests | Pap smears

 How reliable are pap smears for detecting cancer?

 What cancers do Pap tests screen?

 

 How reliable are pap smears for detecting cancer?

 Karen, Alberta, Canada: A Pap smear is a screening test, not a diagnostic one - it is an inexpensive way to screen large numbers of women, but there is also a certain proportion of both false negative and false positive results. Abnormal results from a Pap test need to be investigated further with diagnostic tests, such as colposcopy and biopsy. And if you are experiencing any unusual symptoms, you should not be lulled into a false sense of security by a "normal" Pap smear.

 Jax, Massachusetts, USA: In my case the Pap test was NOT reliable. I had a slightly abnormal Pap in May of 1998. Not only was my next Pap normal, my cervical colposcopy was normal as well. It wasn't until my gynecologist insisted on a biopsy that my cancer was discovered. And, it was the determination that I had a dangerous strain of HPV - strain 16 - that pushed my medical team towards a biopsy. My advice to my friends now is to have a test for HPV with their next yearly Pap. The test can be done from the Pap cells and if there's even 'mild' abnormality of the cervix AND positive results for one of the dangerous strains of HPV, pursue a biopsy or colposcopy for your own peace of mind.

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 What cancers do Pap tests screen?

 Sue D., Pennsylvania, USA: What I never realized before I had cancer, is that Pap tests only screen for cervical and vaginal cancers. It does not show ovarian, and rarely shows endometrial and other uterine cancers. I can’t believe how many women ask me if my endometrial cancer was found with a Pap test. It concerns me that women are lulled into a false sense of security because apparently no one has made it clear to them just what Pap tests are useful for and they do not know the early warning signs for the other gynecologic cancers that Paps don't screen.

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