The Pap smear is still the best test for early diagnosis of cervical cancer and HPV infection. The HPV test is often combined with the Pap smear to get a better idea of risk for developing cervical cancer. If abnormal cell changes are noted in the cervix then more frequent Pap smear testing may be needed or other types of tests. If abnormal cervical cell changes persist then further treatment is needed. This includes cryotherapy, conization, and LEEP procedures to get rid of the abnormal cells before they develop into cancer. Genital warts can be treated with harsh chemicals added onto the abnormal skin wart or through freezing of the wart.
Still the best treatment is prevention. The best way to reduce risk of HPV infection and cervical cancer is to practice abstinence before marriage and have a mutually monogamous sexual relationship with a non-infected partner. Preventive vaccines called Gardasil and Cervarix are now available to protect against the high-risk strains of HPV infection that can cause most cervical cancers along with the strains that can cause genital warts. These vaccines are recommended for females at a young age between nine and 26 years of age preferably before any sexual experience. I emphasize to my own daughters that sexual abstinence before marriage is the better choice for physical and emotional health. But I still recommend they get the preventive vaccine for protection since they cannot completely determine the past sexual history of a future mate. Follow up with your doctor soon to prevent a virus and a cancer.
Jeffrey G. Smith, MD is the Chief Medical Officer for Three Rivers Community Health – Hickman and Perry County Medical Center.