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Researchers: Women May Not Need Yearly Pap Smears

Posted November 19, 2003

— A woman needs a Pap test every year, right? Maybe not. Research out of Duke University and other medical centers show there is some benefit to spacing out tests.

The American Cancer Society says women can go two to three years between Pap tests if they are over 30 and have a history of three normal Pap tests in a row. However, experts said that should not be taken to mean that pap tests are not important.

"Pap tests are probably one of the greatest success stories against cancer," Duke epidemiologist Dr. Evan Myers said.

Researchers have now found that you can safely space out pap tests without missing more cervical cancers. Pap tests can also pick up slight changes in the body and red flag them as suspicious, which is what happened to Kath Pollak. Last year, she went to a doctor who wanted a yearly Pap test. It came back abnormal. As a result, Pollak endured four Pap tests and a painful biopsy.

"I was pretty nervous, especially when you have to come back in three months and you don't know what the results are going to be," she said.

Just a few weeks ago, Pollak got a clean bill of health.

"The relief was then followed by, 'Wait, why have I gone through all of this?'" she said.

Some doctors argue yearly tests are the only way to get women in for checkups, but that may not be true in some cases.

"There's probably a lot of women who don't come in on a regular basis because they don't want to get a Pap smear," Myers said.

Pollak hopes to eventually get back on the two-year plan and she thinks other women will too.

"I don't think many women like having the Pap test done, so I think they'll jump at the idea," she said.

For women who do not have good insurance coverage, the two- or three-year Pap test would also save them money, but experts said it has to be something both you and your doctor feel comfortable with.

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