On the heels of this week's mammogram controversy comes new guidelines for cervical cancer screening from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In a nutshell, here's what it says: Women should delay their first Pap test until age 21, and be screened less often than recommended in the past.
Is anyone else concerned that all these new recommendations are suggesting LESS—not more—cancer screening for women?
Here's the gist of the new guidelines for cervical cancer screening:
- Women should delay their first Pap test until age 21, and be screened less often than recommended in the past.
- Women 30 and older who have three consecutive Pap tests that were normal, and who have no history of seriously abnormal findings, can stretch the interval between screenings to three years.
- Women who have a total hysterectomy, and who had no severe abnormalities on previous Pap tests, can quit having the tests entirely.
- The guidelines also say that women can stop having Pap tests between 65 and 70 if they have three or more negative tests in a row and no abnormal test results in the last 10 years.
The changes do not apply to women with certain health problems that could make them more prone to aggressive cervical cancer.
A chairwoman from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists insists that the timing of the new guidelines—so close to the new mammogram guidelines—is purely coincidental. (Interesting to note, the group opposes the new mammogram advice.)
The reason for the changes? There is potential for harm from the overuse of Pap tests. Specifically, procedures to remove abnormalities in the cervix (which could go away if left alone) can actually injure the cervix and lead to problems later when a woman becomes pregnant, including premature birth and an increased risk of needing a C-section. As such, groups including the American Cancer Society have actually suggested similar changes to the recommendations for years.
What do you think of these new guidelines? Do you plan on asking your doctor about them?