Recent studies published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that Pap smears, performed annually on women over 21 to test for cervical cancer, may not need to be performed as frequently.
“This new research from the CDC indicates that, although regular screenings are necessary, women will only need to go for Pap smears every three years, rather than annually,” explains David Holtz, MD, gynecologic oncologist at Lankenau Medical Center and Paoli Hospital, Main Line Health.
In addition, the research also suggests that screenings are unnecessary for women under 21, low-risk women over 65, and low-risk women with total hysterectomies. The ‘new rules’ of Pap screenings indicate that a Pap smear every three years between the ages of 20-29 and every five years between age 30 and over are enough to protect you from cervical cancer, barring any symptoms, risk factors, past abnormal Pap tests, or a family history.
Although the screening guidelines and recommendations for women have changed, the importance of these screenings has not. Since the 1950s, when Pap smears were first introduced, cervical cancer deaths have fallen by 70 percent.
“What’s important to remember is, although this research addresses the frequency of screenings, women should still get regular screenings every three years to decrease their risk for cervical cancer,” says Dr. Holtz. “There is no underestimating the important of these screenings.”
Dr. Holtz urges patients to continue seeing their gynecologist regularly to discuss menopause, family planning, and other concerns, as well as for an annual pelvic exam.
If you have questions about your cancer risk or what these new guidelines mean for you, talk to your doctor.