Monday, October 22, 2007

Natural Medicine: Pap tests key to cervical cancer prevention

Is it time for your annual exam? Annual pelvic exams are an important step toward reducing the chance of developing cervical cancer. Over the past 30 years, regular women's exams have significantly decreased the incidence of cervical cancer in many population groups studied in the United States.
Pap tests are one of the best cancer screening tests available, and one of the key reasons that annual exams are recommended by physicians. A Pap test uses a bristled tool to loosen the first layer of cells off the cervix in a procedure not often felt by the patient. A pathologist then examines these cells to determine the health of the cervix, and monitor any unusual cellular changes. Today, it is estimated that approximately 99 percent of changes caused to the cervix are due to the human papilloma virus (HPV). While these changes may take several years to progress to cancer, treatment is most effective and least invasive if the cellular changes are identified early.
Regular gynecological exams are required to detect any changes in cervical cells before they progress to cervical cancer. Many times, a Pap test will indicate an adequate number of normal cells. However, in the case of an abnormal Pap test, here are some terms your doctor may use to describe your results: ASC-US (atypical cells of undetermined significance); LSIL (low grade squamous intraepithelial lesions); and HSIL (high grade SIL).These terms indicate various stages of abnormal cell changes and guide your physician toward the best course of treatment.
Recommendations on the frequency of Pap testing have changed in recent years to accommodate current clinical observations and research on cervical health. After the age of 30 and three consecutive negative Pap results in a five-year period, a woman can reduce Pap testing to once every three years. This also assumes no new sexual partners in this period of time. Even with this reduction in Pap testing frequency, an annual pelvic exam is still recommended for other reproductive and pelvic health considerations. Speak with your physician to clarify your Pap testing schedule.
-- Dr. Kris Somol, naturopathic physician at Bastyr Center for Natural Health and an adjunct faculty member at Bastyr University
on-profit, accredited Bastyr University ( offers multiple degrees in the natural health sciences, and clinical training at Bastyr Center for Natural Health (, the region's largest natural medicine clinic.

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