Pap Smear Guidelines: Changes to Cervical Cancer Screenings

By: Women's Care Staff

During your annual exam, you might get asked to take a Pap smear. Every couple of years, providers take tests to ensure you do not have cervical cancer. A Pap test collects tissue from your cervix and tests it for any abnormalities. Detecting cervical cancer early leads to better outcomes. Pap smear guidelines used to consist of receiving them every five years along with received an HPV test. However, recently these guidelines have changed.

Changes in pap smear guidelines

A recent change in the recommended screenings for cervical cancer has sparked a controversy. Many medical organizations, health advocates and care providers disagree with the change. In September 2017, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued a draft recommendation that states:

“The USPSTF recommends either screening every 3 years with cervical cytology [Pap test] alone or every 5 years with high-risk human papillomavirus (hrHPV) testing alone in women ages 30 to 65 years.”

Furthermore, the recommendation to use just one of the two screening methods is a change from the Task Force’s previous guidelines. Also, in 2012, the USPSTF recommended women age 30 to 64 undergo both the HPV and Pap tests every five years. However, many major medical organizations still recommend both exams. These include the American Cancer Society, the American College of Physicians and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

According to a recent NPR article, simplifying the cervical cancer screening could result in missed diagnoses. This is especially true among at-risk populations. Additionally, the article states:

“A proposal to simplify cervical cancer screening could end up missing some cancers, researchers and patient advocates say. And that could be especially true for minority women. Latina and black women already have the highest rates of cervical cancer in the U.S., and more than half of women with the disease were not screened in the five years before their diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Our Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines

At Women’s Care, we follow the current cervical cancer screening guidelines for low-risk women. Depending on your risk factors, your provider may recommend more frequent screenings. Furthermore, women who have an abnormal cervical cancer screening test result, a history of cervical cancer, HIV, or a weakened immune system may need additional screening.

If you are:

Under 21 years of age You do not need screening
Age 21 to 29 A Pap smear every 3 years with possible HPV depending on certain Pap results.
Age 30-64 A Pap smear and HPV (co-testing) every 3 to 5 years; or a Pap smear alone every 3 years.
Over 65 or after hysterectomy You do not need screening anymore if all of your recent Pap smears have been normal.

For recommendations on the type and frequency of cervical cancer screenings that are best suited to your stage of life, ask your OB/GYN. Find a physician now at Women’s Care.

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