Women over 30 may face one less test at the doctors office. An American Cancer Society panel has developed new cervical cancer detection guidelines that allow some women over 30 to have a pap test every few years instead of annually. It would also give a woman the option of stopping screening when she reaches 70.
A cancer society spokesperson says most cervical precancers grow slowly and having a test every two to three years will find almost all cancers while they can be removed or treated successfully. According to the new guidelines, screening should begin within three years after a woman begins having intercourse, but no later than 21 years of age. They also recommend testing every two to three years for women older than 30 who have had several clear tests. Women 70 and older who have had no abnormal test results in the last three years can choose to stop the cancer screening altogether. Women at high risk will still be screened every year.
The ACS panel says the new guidelines will have a major impact on the number of women who are over-screened and over-treated. In the United States, the American Cancer Society estimates that 13,000 women will develop cervical cancer this year, and about 4,100 women will die. Cervical cancer is usually caused by the sexually transmitted human wart virus. Pre-cancerous changes can be detected with the pap smear test, and suspect areas removed before cancer develops. The guidelines are published in the November/December issue of "A Cancer Journal for Clinicians."