New Guidelines Ditch Annual Pap Smears

November 20, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
For the second time this week, health experts have released controversial new cancer screening guidelines for women. First ... it was for mammograms. Now ... it's the test for cervical cancer.The new recommendations suggest many women no longer need to get the cervical cancer test every year, and others can wait longer before they start getting tested. But much like the new mammogram guidelines, not everyone is convinced less is really more.

New guidelines by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists may mean an end to annual pap smears for many women ... and a later start to the cervical cancer screenings for others.

Dr. Marie from Linsey Davis said, "They are recommending that women not begin pap tests before age 21. Previously, it was age 18. And women between 20 and 30 get the pap test every other year."

The agency also suggests women age 30 and older who have had three normal pap tests in a row only get screened every three years. But the changes are not sitting well with many women, including Merced College nursing student Sarah Harrison.

Harrison said, "I think every year since it's such a simple procedure would be better because a lot can happen and cancer can develop in less than two years."

The health experts behind the new guidelines argue they'll help reduce problems caused by excessive screening and unnecessary treatments. Doctor Brian Moore of Merced says he trusts the science behind those findings, but he's just concerned some women will stop coming in for regular check-ups.

Dr. Moore said, "It's still important to see a gynecologist once a year, even if it's your off year for getting a pap smear, there's still important things that go with breast exam and pelvic exam and so on."

These new guidelines come the same week as an independent panel said women should wait until age 50 to start having mammograms and only get them once every two years. Health experts insist the timing is pure coincidence, but they admit the cost of care is an increasing concern ... one that has some women questioning the system.

"It costs more money to treat cancer than it does to get a pap smear," said Harrison.

Doctors want to stress that the new recommendations are only for women with normal test results. Those with abnormal results will still need to be screened more often.


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