Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines Change, Annual Pap Recommendation Changed

In a move called a “win-win” for women, cervical cancer screening guidelines have been officially changed by the United States Preventive Services Task Force in the first alterations made to such recommendations in nearly ten years.

According to the New York Times, conventional protocol for pap smear testing- the cancer screening method most commonly used to detect pre-cancerous cells in women and prevent cervical cancer- has been a part of routine care for six decades. But in recent years, doctors and medical organizations have been exploring the net effectiveness of the cervical cancer screening protocol for women and trying to discern whether yearly testing had more of a benefit to women than testing every few years.

In 2009, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists began to advocate for a revision of guidelines favoring less frequent cervical cancer screening. The Times points out that cost of cervical cancer screening tests is not a factor in altering the recommendations, but rather the prevention of harm to women and waste of resources following up on false positives. Dr. Wanda Nicholson is a task force member and an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina, and she explains:

“We achieve essentially the same effectiveness in the reduction of cancer deaths, but we reduce potential harm of false positive tests… It’s a win-win for women.”

Nicholson also said that recommendations surrounding screening for human papillomavirus- known as HPV- have been changed and are less aggressive. She says:

“HPV in women under 30 is highly prevalent but also highly transient… Women under 30 may get infected with HPV, but they have a high likelihood of clearing that infection on their own, and it not causing any long-term change to their cervical tissue.”

Will the new cervical cancer screening guidelines change your gynecological care regimen?