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The Rules About Pap Smears are Changing

The Rules About Pap Smears are Changing

Pap Smears

Great news, ladies! If your cervical cancer screening came back negative, you may be able to wait longer between screenings.

Current U.S. cervical cancer screening guidelines do not consider a woman’s previous screening history because the data has been unavailable until now. These guidelines advise  women to have a Pap Smears every three years starting at age 21.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the primary cause of cervical cancer. A Pap Smears is a test for abnormal cells at the bottom of the uterus to help determine a woman’s risk for cervical cancer. Meanwhile, an HPV test checks for the genetic material (DNA) of the human papillomavirus. Like a Pap Smears, HPV tests are done on a sample of cells collected from the cervix.  Human papillomavirus testing has only been used as part of a follow-up for abnormal Pap testing.

But, new research has shown women who’ve had one or more negative HPV tests are at extremely low risk of cervical cancer. This means we may be able to extend the Pap Smear interval to five years if a woman has had a negative HPV test.

The study published November 27, 2017, in Annals of Internal Medicine sought to measure the cervical cancer risk of women who had several negative HPV tests in the past three years. Researchers found  that after 1 or more negative HPV test, longer screening intervals (every 5 years or more) might be a better option.

Women who get infected with HPV contract the infection within 10 years of first beginning sexual activity. Having many partners, or having a partner who has many partners, increases the risk for HPV infection. If a woman has negative HPV tests done at five-year intervals, the chances of developing invasive cervical cancer is extremely small. It’s rare for older women to contract HPV because older women are often in stable relationships.

Making modifications to current guidelines would provide optimal screening that is more cost-effective and more efficient. It would also reduce risks associated with excessive screening such as false positives. One big concern, however,  is that women might mistake longer intervals for Pap Smears to mean that they don’t need to have a Women’s Wellness Exam every year.

It’s important for women to keep their regular exam each year because cervical cancer isn’t the only thing Women’s Wellness Exams screen for. Your medical provider will also perform a breast exam to screen for breast cancer and a vaginal exam to screen for ovarian and uterine cancer. These exams are also an opportunity for you to discuss problems related to sexual function, bowel function, and bladder function.

These new guidelines may mean fewer cervical cancer false positives and a break for your wallet, but Women’s Wellness Exams are about keeping you healthy overall. They help identify serious health problems as early as possible while they are easier to treat. If you need to schedule a Women’s Wellness Exam, call us at 662-282-4226 to make an appointment with us today.






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