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Health Team

New guidelines released for cervical cancer screening

Posted March 15, 2012 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated March 16, 2012 10:20 a.m. EDT

— A government task force and other health groups agree on changing the frequency of screening for cervical cancer. They now recommend that women ages 21 to 65 get a Pap test every three years.

Previously, women were encouraged to have a Pap test every year.

"It is as effective in reducing cancer deaths as annual screening, but we have substantially (fewer) false positive tests," said Dr. Wanda Nicholson of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Low-risk women over the age of 30 can be tested every five years if they get an human papillomavirus (HPV) test at the same time as their Pap test.

Doctors say that over-screening can lead to unnecessary procedures and increase pregnancy complications. However, many gynecologists think that waiting to test for HPV until age 30 is too risky.

"To blanketly say in these low-risk patients five years is appropriate might be a stretch too far," said Dr. Sharyn Lewin of New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

The new recommendations for less frequent screening do not mean that women should skip their annual checkups, according to physicians.