A recent study out of the University of Utah reveals that many women, possibly up to 14 million across America, are unnecessarily receiving a Pap smear.
The women that are most likely to receive an unnecessary Pap smear were those over the age of 65. According to both the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), women over the age of 65 who have never had abnormal screening results should no longer receive a Pap smear, even if they have a new sexual partner.
The research also revealed that women who had hysterectomies were also being unnecessarily screened. Women who have had a hysterectomy because of non-cancerous reasons no longer need a Pap Smear because they no longer have the reproductive organs that are affected by the HPV virus.
About the Pap Smear
The Pap smear has become a staple of women’s gynecological checkups. The test screens for abnormal cell changes in a woman’s cervix. These abnormal changes could be precancerous cells, caused by the sexually transmitted infection, HPV.
The HPV virus is the most common STI in the US. While the STI is common, it rarely results in cervical cancer. If cervical cancer is caught early (usually through the use of a Pap smear) it is highly treatable.
Newer Pap Smear Recommendations
Many women may remember receiving an annual pap smear, but those days are over. Health organizations, including the ACS and the ACOG, have changed their Pap smear recommendations to the following:
- Women should begin testing no earlier than age 21, even if they are sexually active as teenagers.
- Women age 21 to 29 should be screened every three years. Young women should receive a pap smear even if they’ve had an HPV vaccine.
- Women age 30-65 should receive a Pap smear along with an HPV test every five years. If they don’t receive the HPV test, then Pap smears should continue every three years. Women with abnormal results or those who are treated for precancerous cells will have different recommendations from their well woman care provider.
- Women over the age of 65 and those who have undergone hysterectomies for non-cancerous reasons should not receive a pap smear.
Overuse of the Pap Smear
Leading health organizations, including the ACOG, discourage annual screening because of the number of false negative Pap smear results that lead to patient anxiety, unnecessary diagnostic and treatment procedures, and later pregnancy complications for women who underwent treatment.
Because cervical cancer is a very slow growing cancer, the ACOG feels confident that less frequent testing will still catch cervical cancer in time for treatment.
While you may not need a Pap smear this year, you still need to have your annual well woman checkup. These checkups serve as the cornerstone for ensuring prevention and early detection of many women’s health problems that go well beyond cervical cancer.
If you need to schedule your annual appointment, contact All About Women’s Gainesville or Lake City office today.