New Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines made Simple


2012-03-14 19:06

New guidelines for cervical cancer screening can lead to confusion. When should you get your first Pap smear, how often, and when can you stop? In the past women were told to get their screening every year.

According to new guidelines, which are precise and maybe confusing, women can start their cervical cancer screenings later than previously recommended, at age 21, even if you've been sexually active. We can (generally) have our Pap tests less often and stop earlier.

Who needs tested and when

When new screening guidelines are released, it can be difficult for women to know exactly what to do, especially when there are new types of tests, as well as vaccines now available,” said Mark H. Stoler, MD, FASCP, past president of the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) and professor of pathology, cytology and gynecology at the University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville in a media release.

“As the experts in laboratory medicine, ASCP is here to help clinicians and women make sense of the new screening recommendations.”

Stoler explains, though the guidelines for women might be confusing, the goal is to eliminate over testing that can lead to unnecessary procedures and anxiety, which is similar to what some women go through when they have mammograms.

The good news

  • Pap smears are only needed every 3 or 5 years, depending on age and HPV testing.
  • If you’re age 21 to 29, get tested every 3 years.
  • After age 30, get a Pap smear and HPV test every 5 years.
  • If you don’t have an HPV test, continue your cervical cancer screening every 3 years.
  • The above applies even if you’ve had an HPV vaccine.
  • After age 65, you can forget about your cervical cancer screening tests altogether, as long as there’s no history of ‘pre-cancer’, 3 previous normal Pap smears and no HPV detected on two tests in the previous 10 years.
  • Testing negative for HPV should be within 5 years of reaching age 65.
  • If you’ve been told you have any pre-cancerous condition, get tested routinely for 20 years.
  • If you’ve had a hysterectomy, and no pre-cancerous condition, you won’t need cervical cancer screening

.
None of the guidelines apply to women who have had cervical cancer, exposure to the hormone DES, or HIV or other conditions that suppress the immune system.

The new screening guidelines for cervical cancer screening take into account a woman’s risk factors, age, prior test results and HPV vaccine and testing status, but are designed for the general population. Speak with your doctor at your next appointment about when your next Pap test is due.

Sources:
American Journal of Clinical Pathology
Cancer Screening Guidelines Supplementary Materials
March, 2012

Image is cervical cancer seen on T2 weighted sagittal MR image of the pelvis
Wikimedia commons