Saturday, March 17, 2012

New Guidelines Advise Less Frequent Pap Tests

The United States Preventive Services Task Force issued new guidelines this week for the frequency at which women should be screened for cervical cancer with the Pap test. The new guidelines are based on statistical analysis that tries to identify the balance point between the risk of not doing the test often enough (not detecting a cancer), versus the potential harm of doing the test too often (false positives can lead to painful biopsies, emotional stress, and a risk of pregnancy complications in the future). That balance point is different for different age groups, based on their likelihood of developing cervical cancer at that age. The new guidelines call for less frequent tests, especially among women in the youngest and the oldest age groups in which the risks of cervical cancer are relatively low.

Specifically, the guidelines recommend that women should not be screened for cervical cancer with the Pap test until they are 21 years old. Between 21 and 29 they should have a Pap test only once every three years, instead of every year. Between 30 and 65, women should either have a Pap test every three years, OR a Pap test every five years if it is combined with a test for HPV. Women over 65 need not be screened at all, provided they are healthy.

The American Cancer Society agrees with the new recommendations, and has already incorporated them into their cancer screening guidelines posted on their website.

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