In recent years, when new screening guidelines have been announced by the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), they are met with great debate and discussion. This is most often because the recommendations made by this government panel are not in agreement with the guidelines set by the American Cancer Society or other major medical organizations and professional societies.
However, final guidelines recently published on cervical cancer screening by the USPSTF are being met with general agreement according to recommendations also just made by the American Cancer Society (ACS), the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP) and the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). Both the task force and the collaborative groups reviewed scientific literature and came to similar conclusions, that women should reduce the number of tests that they receive over their lifetime.
Cervical cancer used to be one of the most deadliest cancers. Decades ago, it killed more women each year than breast or lung cancer but there have been vast improvements in recent decades due to improved screening, treatment and prevention tools including a vaccine to prevent the human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus which causes cervical cancer. In 2009, about 4,000 women died of cervical cancer, the vast majority of whom had never been screened within 10 years of their diagnosis.
The USPSTF’s revised guidelines say women, on average, should undergo cervical cancer screening no more than once every three years. Specifically, they call for Pap tests every three years for women ages 30 to 65. Women who add testing for HPV can lengthen the interval to once every five years. The USPSTF recommends against cervical cancer screenings in women younger than 21 or older than 65. They also recommend that women under age 21 should not be tested.
There are slight differences in the sets of recommendations, but you should talk with your health care provider about when you and family members should start screening. Pap screening, coupled with other preventive measures, can save lives!