For those at average risk of breast and cervical cancer, it has been a busy week! Last week new, more lenient mammography guidelines were recommended, stirring up controversy among cancer organizations and political cynics. Today, we see changes in cervical cancer screening guidelines, issued by The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG). Like the updated mammography guidelines, ACOG is recommending less Pap smear tests for women of average risk of cervical cancer. Women who have had abnormal cervical screenings should continue to follow their doctors recommendations as the new guidelines only apply to women of average risk.
New Guidelines Suggest:
- Women should have their first period at age 21. Old guidelines recommended women have their first Pap when they become sexually active or at age 21 -- whichever came first.
- Women in their 20's should have a Pap smear every two years, instead of annually. Women in their 30's and have had three consecutive normal Pap smears should have undergo screening every three years.
- Women 65-70, who have have three normal Pap smear results consecutive and no abnormal findings in 10 years, can discontinue screenings altogether if they choose.
- Women who have undergone a total hysterectomy due to a noncancerous condition and have not had previously abnormal Pap smears can also discontinue screenings.
Shouldn't We Be Screening More Often?
Unlike a lot of cancers, cervical cancer is very slow growing. It can take up to 8-10 years for cervical cancer to develop. New guidelines give ample time to catch any cases of cervical pre-cancer before it progresses into cancer. Conspiracy theorists argue that these new guidelines for cancer screenings are among a grand plan by the Obama administration to cut costs for healthcare reform. I completely disagree. There have been talks of updating guidelines for years now. Medically, it makes perfect sense to increase the time between Pap smears and there isn't a huge debate among cancer organizations about the new changes. Now, the breast cancer screening debate is a whole different ballgame. Check out About.com's Breast Cancer site's heated discussion about the new changes.