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Updated Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines

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On March 14 the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released updated guidelines for cervical cancer screening. Highlights include:

  • Cervical cancer screening with Pap tests should begin at age 21, regardless of sexual history. Previous guidelines called for screening to begin within three years of a female becoming sexually active.
  • Pap testing should not be done more often than every three years, a big change from the traditional "annual Pap" regimen many women and doctors traditionally used. -HPV testing should not be done in women under age 30 other than as follow-up to unclear Pap test results.
  • HPV testing is appropriate (ACS says preferred), in conjunction with a Pap, in women age 30 and over. Such co-testing should only occur once every five years.
  • Cervical cancer screening can end for most women at age 65, provided she has had at least three consecutive, normal Pap tests (or two normal HPV tests) within the last 10 years.

Read more at Cancer.org. These updated recommendations bring ACS and USPSTF essentially in line with guidance issued by the American College of Gynecologists (ACOG), the other leading professional organization that influences cervical cancer screening practice.

The reason for ditching the annual Pap is evidence shows little gain in testing more often, but potential harm of “over screening” such as follow-up exams (like colposcopy/biopsy) and treatment to the cervix, especially with women of child-bearing age.