Friday, January 18, 2008

Pap Tests as Important as Ever for Cervical Health

(BUSINESS WIRE)--January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, and there’s no better time than now for women to catch up on the latest information about cervical health and testing.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2007, approximately 11,150 cases of invasive cervical cancer were diagnosed in the United States and nearly 3,670 women died from cervical cancer. Although this is still too many cases of preventable illness and death, it represents a significant improvement over historic rates. From 1955 to 1992, there was a 74% reduction of cervical cancer-related deaths, and this rate continues to decrease by approximately 4% per year. Earlier and more accurate diagnosis will allow continued improvement in outcomes for women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

According to LabCorp, an industry leader in cancer testing, one major achievement that has led to this decline was the development and general acceptance of the Pap smear or Pap test.

The Pap test requires a health care provider to remove a sample of cells from the cervix which are then affixed to a glass slide, stained with a dye to reveal the different cells and studied under a microscope by a cytotechnologist or a pathologist. The Pap can detect early stages of cancer, when it is most manageable, or identify pre-cancerous changes in the cervix before cancer develops.

In 2003, the FDA approved a test to directly detect the DNA of HPV in the cervical cells that are used for the Pap. The HPV DNA test accurately detects the HPV itself. “Knowing a woman’s HPV status allows doctors to determine when additional tests or procedures are needed and to initiate treatment before cancer can develop,” states Dr. Myla Lai-Goldman, Executive Vice President, Chief Scientific Officer and Medical Director of LabCorp. Pap with HPV testing is the recommended screening approach for women age 30 and older.

In 2006, the FDA approved the first vaccine effective against four HPV strains, two of which cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers. The FDA recommends the vaccine for women between the ages of nine and 26, before they are sexually active. The vaccine has the potential to dramatically reduce the incidence of cervical cancer in the United States. However women who receive the vaccine still need to have appropriate Pap tests. “Regardless of whether a woman has been vaccinated, regular Pap tests are an integral part of maintaining cervical health,” said Dr. Lai-Goldman.

LabCorp performs more than 10 million Pap tests annually and recommends that all women visit their physician to discuss what testing options are best for them.

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