What is Cervical Cytology?

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  • Written By: Dulce Corazon
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2019
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The term cervical relates to the cervix, which is a part of the female reproductive tract found at the lower portion of the uterus. Cytology, on the other hand, denotes the study of cells, including their functions, anatomy, and chemistry. Cervical cytology, therefore, is mostly the study of cells found in the cervix of women. It involves screening for the early detection of cervical dysplasia or abnormal cell changes that can sometimes lead to the formation of cervical cancer.

A cervical cytology test, which is often called Pap test, is usually performed in the clinic of an obstetrician or gynecologist. It is often done together with the pelvic exam, which is an examination of the vagina, uterus, and rectum. In order to evaluate the cervix, a speculum is inserted inside the vagina to open its walls and make the cervix visible to the examiner. Cervical cells are then scraped and placed in a liquid medium to be sent to the laboratory for liquid cytology studies. Under the microscope, the pathologist studies the cells and prepares a cytology report based on his findings.


The cervical cytology study can generally detect the presence of abnormal cells which have a higher chance of turning into cancer later on. With early detection, the rate of cure is also considerably better. As this type of cancer tends to grows very slowly, regular screening often helps in catching it in its developmental process. Proper management then can be given to women with positive cervical cytology results. A positive cervical cytology report describes the presence of abnormal cells or the presence of cancer cells.

Women of reproductive age are often encouraged to undergo screening using the Pap smear test. Some organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist (ACOG), mostly recommends that women should have their first cervical cytology screening test done at age 21. Others recommend screening after three years from first sexual contact and also at age 21, or whichever of the two comes first.

There are also different guidelines as to how often should women subject themselves to the test. Some guidelines suggest that women ages 21 to 29 should have a Pap test done every two years. At the age of 30 and older, it should generally be every three years, if they have shown three consecutive negative Pap smear test results previously. In cases of abnormal findings, the test is usually done more frequently, depending often on the requirements of the managing physician.

Numerous factors increases the risk for the development of cervical cancer in some women. These factors include early age of first sexual contact, having multiple sex partners, or having a partner who had previous history of multiple sexual encounters. Infections with sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia and human papillomavirus (HPV), also often increase the woman's risk for cervical cancer.


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