A Pap smear reveals a group of HPV-infected koilocytes on the bottom right,… (Ed Uthman / Wikimedia Commons )
An independent federal panel and several other leading medical groups are proposing new guidelines for cervical cancer screening -- in the same month that the federal panel made news by recommending against routine PSA tests to screen for prostate cancer.
Among the recommendations: that women over age 21 should undergo Pap smears to test for cervical cancer only once every three years, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
This syncs somewhat with a new set of proposed guidelines from the American Cancer Society, the American Society for Clinical Pathology and the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, also released Wednesday. Previously, according to the Washington Post, those groups had recommended that women ages 21 to 29 get screened every year -- and that sexually active women under 21 begin screening three years after starting to have intercourse.
Where the two sides really start to diverge, however, is on screening for HPV along with the Pap smear. The medical groups say that for women ages 30 and up, it's not a bad idea; but the task force says there isn't enough evidence to suggest that it's a good enough idea to justify the risks.
"Abnormal test results can lead to more frequent testing and invasive diagnostic procedures, such as colposcopy and cervical biopsy. ... Harms from these diagnostic procedures include vaginal bleeding, pain, infection, and failure to diagnose (inadequate sampling)," the task force recommendations warn.
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