Women who have regular Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer are more likely to survive if they are ever diagnosed with the disease, a new Swedish study suggests.
The researchers found a 92% cure rate after a smear test diagnosis, compared with 66% for symptoms-based diagnoses.
The study in bmj.com looked at all women diagnosed with cervical cancer in Sweden between 1999 and 2001.
Dr Bengt Andrae, study author and senior consultant gynaecologist at Uppsala University, said that screening both reduced the risk of cervical cancer and was linked with improved likelihood of cure.
“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,”
The Swedish research, carried out at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, followed 1,230 women for an average of eight years after diagnosis.
To estimate the chances of surviving cervical cancer, the study analysed cancers detected by an abnormal smear test result and all other cases based on diagnosis using symptoms.
The percentage of women cured after presenting with symptoms within the recommended interval between screenings was 74%.
But for women with symptoms who were overdue for screening, this cure rate decreased to 60%.
Researchers found that the chances of being cured for all women who had a smear test within the recommended three to five years were 11% higher than for women who were overdue or who had never had a smear test.
This is a result of screen-detected cancers generally being found at an earlier stage, the study says.
Three-quarters of the 373 women who died from cervical cancer in the Swedish study had not had a cervical smear in the recommended timeframe.
Dr Andrae said: “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.”
Signs and symptoms
Cervical cancer may have no symptoms initially, but in the later stages there may be vaginal discharge, inter-menstrual bleeding or bleeding after intercourse. Some of the symptoms include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Bleeding that occurs between regular menstrual periods
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse, douching or a pelvic exam
- Menstrual periods that last longer and are heavier than before
- Bleeding after menopause Increased vaginal discharge
- Pelvic pain
- Pain during sexual intercourse
Causes behind cervical cancer
The major cause of cervical cancer is infection with the HPV, which is passed on through sexual contact. According to Dr Sanjay Sharma, surgical oncologist, SL Raheja Hospital, Mumbai, the other possible risk factors are:Multiple sexual relationships
- Multiple child birth (more than 5 children)
- Early age of first child birth (especially before age 17 years)
- Early sexual practice (especially before age 16 years)
- Poor immunity
- Stress and stress-related disorders
- Hormonal contraception
- Use of combined oral contraceptive pills
- Diet deficient in nutrients and vitamins
- Poor genital hygiene