What You Need to Know About Changes to Cervical Cancer Screenings

Sep 14, 2017 at 8:00 a.m. ET
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When it comes to the testing done in the OB-GYN's office, we know we want it done as quickly as possible, but aside from that, do we really know what's happening down there? And how often do we need to get Pap smears? The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has weighed in on this, publishing a draft of new guidelines for cervical cancer screening.

They say clinicians should screen for cervical cancer in women ages 21 to 29 every three years via a Pap test. Women ages 30 to 65 need a Pap test every three years or a Human Papillomavirus testing alone every five years — not both tests, as is currently in the guidelines.

Women younger than 21 and older than 65 (and those without a cervix) who have been screened do not need the tests.

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A Pap smear assesses cells that are scraped off the cervix that may become abnormal; an HPV test is a DNA test that tells you if HPV is present, and if so, what types.

The recommendations do not apply to women at high risk for cervical cancer, including those who have been diagnosed with a high-grade precancerous cervical lesion or have a weakened immune system (such as women who are HIV-positive).

“The Task Force looked at the evidence on the effectiveness of different screening tests and intervals based on age, and found that after age 30, the Pap test and HPV tests are both effective for cervical cancer screening,” said Task Force member Dr. Maureen G. Phipps in an emailed press release for the new guidelines. “Women ages 30 to 65, therefore, have a choice between the Pap test every three years or HPV test every five years.”

More: 7 things your gynecologist wants you to know

Dr. Stephanie Blank, director of women’s health at Mount Sinai Downtown Chelsea Center and a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai said that one of the biggest differences between the new guidelines and the former recommendations is that the new guidelines recommend against co-testing (having an HPV test and a Pap test at the same time) in women between 30 and 65.

Currently, the task force recommends screening women age 21 to 65 years old with a Pap test every three years. They recommend women 30 to 65 to screen with a combination of Pap and HPV every five years.

More: 4 Ways to Educate Yourself More on "the Silent Killer," Cervical Cancer

“However, the new guidelines are recommending Pap alone with cytology every three years or HPV testing alone every five years, but not both together,” Blank explained in an emailed statement provided by Mount Sinai. “The rationale in these guidelines is that doing these two test tests together did not cause more deaths.”

By Kristen Fischer

Originally published on HelloFlo.