Your future will be filled with fewer pap smears, according to some new recommendations issued by the United States Preventive Services Task Force yesterday. Rather than getting an annual Pap smear, the task force now recommends that women receive cervical cancer screening every three years.
“We achieve essentially the same effectiveness in the reduction of cancer deaths, but we reduce potential harm of false positive tests,” Dr. Wanda Nicholson, a task force member and an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill told the New York Times. “It’s a win-win for women.”
In making its decision, the task force focused on the effectiveness of the screening test to reduce cancer deaths, balanced against the potential harms, before coming to the conclusion that the test can often lead to false positives that require painful biopsies and can put women at risk for pregnancy complications. Under the new recommendations, healthy women should be screened with a Pap smear no more than every three years, starting at 21 (regardless of sexual history). The task force also cautions against screening women over the age of 62 who have had normal Pap test results and are not otherwise at risk for cervical cancer.
Additionally, the task force now recommends that women begin getting tested for HPV when they reach 30. While HPV in women under 30 is prevalent, it's also easily cleared up by the body's own immune system, according to Dr. Nicholson.
However, these recommendations do not include women with a family history of cervical cancer, women who do receive abnormal Pap results, or women who have a history of HPV, H.I.V, dysplasia, or other illnesses. Women with any of those symptoms should still see their doctors for an annual Pap smear, the task force advises.