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NEW TESTS HELP PHYSICIANS READ PAP SMEARS

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by Eileen Nechas and Laura Beth Potylycki

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Pap smears have saved the lives of thousands of women by detecting abnormal cells that can signal cervical cancer, a condition that affects about 15,000 American women each year. Because of the large number of cells taken during a Pap smear, however, tests can sometimes be misread. Now there's help to remedy this situation. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas say that two new approaches, the Automated Screening System and the Thin Prep System, might make it easier for physicians to more accurately read a Pap smear.

During a Pap smear, a sampling of cells is taken from the cervix and examined under a microscope. With the Automated Screening System, the smear is put through a computer screening. The computer weeds out smears that have abnormal cells. With the Thin Prep System, the cells are prepared in a solution that distributes them more evenly along the smear. This makes it easier for physicians to find pre-cancerous cells.

Doctors recommend that you have a Pap smear every year, beginning at age 18 or when you become sexually active. Women who have annual Pap smears have a better chance of finding out if they have pre-cancerous cells in their cervixes than women who don't have regular exams. In fact, the likelihood that abnormal cells will be missed three years in a row is less than one percent.


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