How Accurate Is Cervical Cancer Testing?
For many women, after their yearly pap test results come back normal, they feel that they are in the clear as far as cervical cancer is concerned, at least until their next test. While it is true that pap tests have gone a long way to decrease the number of deaths due to cervical cancer, the test is not completely foolproof. The good news is that with regular pap tests and a comprehensive doctor who listens to patients’ concerns, cervical cancer is usually quite curable. This is normally a slow progressing form and unless there is a failure to diagnose cervical cancer, it usually has a positive outcome.
The first step towards cervical cancer prevention is to have yearly pap tests. All women between the ages of 21 (or 3 years after becoming sexually active) and 65-70 should be having this test done yearly, unless advised otherwise by a physician. This painless test involves a doctor collecting a small sample of cervical cells to be studied for abnormalities. If anything unusual is found when the sample is analyzed then a doctor should perform a procedure called a colposcopy. While complicated sounding, it is actually not much more complex than a regular gynecological exam. A dye is put on the cervix to accentuate any abnormalities and the doctor then uses a specific microscope to study it under a light. Any abnormal cells that the doctor finds should be taken as a tissue sample to be tested for cancer. There are times when the biopsy sample is found to be cancerous, but the testing procedure has already removed all of the malignant cells.
Unfortunately, there are some patients who are not mindful of scheduling regular pap tests and doctors who are not diligent about reminding their patients that their pap tests are due. Also, the people analyzing the samples in the labs sometimes make errors and doctors occasionally take an improper sample and fail to call the patient back in for a second test. In addition, sometimes a pap sample can contain cancerous cells, but they are lost among the inflammation from the cancer. This happens in approximately 10 percent of cases. If a woman’s test comes back normal, but she is having unusual symptoms such as abnormal bleeding, pain in the pelvis, heavier than usual bleeding or painful urination she should ask her doctor for further exams. Aside from the pap test and colposcopy, there is also a blood test (CSA-cervical specific antigen) that can often detect cervical cancer.
It is important to remember that cervical cancer is very treatable if found early. Being proactive about testing and talking to your doctor about anything unusual are very important steps. Unfortunately there are times when errors or oversights occur on the part of the medical staff. If you feel a doctor has failed to diagnose cervical cancer for yourself or someone you love, it may be a case of medical malpractice. At Rasansky Law Firm, we are cancer misdiagnosis lawyers with extensive experience in dealing with medical malpractice cases and will assess your case for free.