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January 14, 2011 > When Was Your Last Pap Test?

When Was Your Last Pap Test?

Washington Hospital Lecture Focuses on Preventing Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in this country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But thanks to effective screening, cervical cancer deaths have decreased dramatically over the past 40 years.

"The Pap test can detect changes in the cells of the cervix," said Dr. Victoria Leiphart, a local gynecologist and member of the Washington Hospital staff. "This allows us to find the cancer at the earliest stages, when it is easiest to treat. In most cases, cervical cancer can be prevented through the early detection and treatment of abnormal cell changes in the cervix long before cancer develops."

She will present an upcoming lecture titled "Cervical Health Update" on Wednesday, January 19, from 7 to 8 p.m. The talk is part of Washington Hospital's Evening Lecture Series for Women and will be held at the Washington Women's Center Conference Room at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue, in Fremont. To register online, visit or call (800) 963-7070.

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens to the vagina. That's why cervical cancer only occurs in women.

Leiphart will talk about the Pap test as well as the HPV test and vaccine. HPV stands for human papillomavirus. There are about 40 types of genital HPV and some can cause changes in the cervix that can lead to cancer, according to Leiphart. She said HPV can also cause warts in the cervix.

"HPV is transmitted through sexual contact and is very common," she said. "Most men and women are infected with HPV at some point in their lives. But in some cases, it can lead to cell changes that need to be treated to prevent cervical cancer."

The HPV vaccine offers protection against the types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer, according to Leiphart. She will discuss the differences between the two brands of vaccine on the market today and who should get the vaccine.

"The CDC recommends that girls get vaccinated against HPV at age 11 or 12," she said. "The vaccine is most effective if given prior to the start of sexual activity."

New Guidelines

Leiphart will also talk about the history of the Pap test and how it's been used over time, including controversial new guidelines that call for fewer Pap tests. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now recommends that women get their first Pap test at age 21 and then get screened biannually until age 30. Prior to that, annual tests were recommended until age 30.

She will talk about standard practice in medicine today when it comes to who should get the Pap test and when, as well as how the HPV test is used.

The HPV test can detect any of the 13 types of HPV that are most commonly found in cervical cancer, according to Leiphart. It can be done at the same time as the Pap test.

"In women over 30, screening with both the Pap test and HPV test is more likely to find abnormal cell changes than either test alone," she said. "The HPV test is not recommended for women under age 30. HPV is very common in women under 30 and the vast majority will get rid of the virus without treatment."

Leiphart will also discuss what happens when the Pap test shows that abnormal cells may be present. She will talk about some of the additional tests that might be required as well as some of the options for treating these abnormal cells.

"Most of the time we can treat these cells before they turn into cancer," Leiphart said. "The fact is with regular screenings, cervical cancer is highly preventable."

For more information about other programs and services offered by the Washington Women's Center, visit

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