New Guidelines for Women’s Pap Smears – What’s It All About?

You may have recently heard that recommended screening for cervical cancer (via a Pap smear) has changed, but do you understand the new guidelines?
When it comes to screening for cancer, most of us are under the impression that the more often we are screened, the better our chance for catching what could be early stage cancer. According to the United States Preventative Services Task Force however, this may not be the case with cervical cancer.
Over the past six decades women have been told that the annual Pap smear is part of a routine wellness exam, but now the latest recommendation is that this cervical screening old needs to be done every three years.

Seem counter-intuitive?



Well consider this, false positives can cause more harm than good and can result in painful and unneeded biopsies. According to the task force, testing every 3 years is equally as effective in diagnosing cervical cancer while cutting back on the amount of false positives that result from testing so frequently. It has also been stated by medical professionals that cervical cancer is very slow growing which also makes every 3 years a more accurate timeline for screenings.
When women turn 30, they will also have the option of only getting screened once every five years if they would like to do an HPV test and Pap test together.

The previous recommendations were revised in 2003, when the task force used the language that screening should take place “at least every three years.” It will now be replaced with the advice that screening should take place no more than every three years. For those who are used to their annual women’s exam, this may seem a bit surprising. Perhaps even more surprising is the recommendation against routine screening for the HPV virus in those under 30. The belief behind this is that eventually these women will clear the virus on their own. For those who have had an abnormal Pap test, routine HPV testing may still be recommended.

For women who are over 65 years of age who have been screened routinely, they are likely low risk for developing the cancer and may opt not to be screened unless they have certain high risk factors for cancer.
While many women may be confused with this sudden change in testing, it appears that it will not only help save us money (which is not a factor that determined the task force’s decision) but it will also save women from unnecessary health scares and uncomfortable biopsies.


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