New Cervical Cancer Guidelines: Less Screening
Women 30-65 Can Go 5 Years Between Screenings if They Have Normal Pap and HPV Tests
No Pap Tests Before Age 21 continued...
HPV testing is not recommended for women in their 20s because people in that age group can have HPV infections that resolve without treatment.
Women over age 65 can stop getting screened if they’ve had at least three consecutive negative Pap tests or at least two negative HPV tests within the previous 10 years, according to the guidelines. But women who have a history of a more advanced precancer diagnosis should continue to be screened for at least 20 years.
And women of any age who’ve had a hysterectomy with removal of the cervix and no history of cervical cancer or advanced precancerous abnormalities do not need to be screened, according to the guidelines.
The guidelines do not apply to women with a history of cervical cancer or prenatal exposure to the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) or to women whose immune systems aren’t functioning normally, such as those with HIV. Such women may need more intensive screening.
As a result of cervical cancer screening, death rates from cervical cancer in developed countries have plummeted. This year, the American Cancer Society estimates that more than 12,000 women will be diagnosed with the disease and more than 4,200 will die. A majority of cases occur in women who hadn’t been screened in more than five years, if ever.
Skip the Annual Checkup?
Pap tests are the reason many women go in for annual checkups, and the task force cautions women not to skip seeing a doctor regularly. However, Moyer says, that doesn’t necessarily mean yearly appointments. “The value of the annual visit with your physician is going to be determined by the individual patient and the physician,” she says.
Just because they don’t need a Pap test doesn’t mean women should go years without seeing a doctor, says Howard W. Jones III, MD, director of gynecological cancer at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, who wasn’t involved in writing the new guidelines. After all, Jones says, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes can go undetected for years in people who aren’t screened for them.