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Clearing Up the Confusion on When to Get a Pap Test
Date:1/2/2013

l cancer screening, according to the American Cancer Society. For a Pap test, the more familiar of the two, a doctor collects cells from the cervix during a pelvic exam and sends them to a lab to determine whether any of the cells are abnormal. The other test, called an HPV screen, looks for evidence of an HPV infection.

The cervical cancer screening guidelines were updated last spring. Einstein, who was on panels that helped define the guidelines, said that more than 25 professional groups led by the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, as well as consumer groups, assessed available data on cervical cancer screening and agreed on how the guidelines should be updated.

For many women, the take-away message was that fewer screenings were being recommended: They could start later than what had been suggested, and the idea of an annual Pap test for everyone was being replaced with a longer interval, perhaps three to five years, between screenings.

For most women, the guidelines now recommend:

  • No screening for women younger than 21.
  • Screening with a Pap test every three years for women 21 to 29 years old.
  • A Pap test every three years or a combination Pap test and HPV testing once every five years for women 30 to 65 years old.
  • Screening for women older than 65 only if they have an elevated risk for cancer or they hadn't gotten regular screenings before age 65.

The guidelines apply only to healthy women, however. That means that anyone who's had an abnormal Pap test or has had a procedure to remove abnormal cervical cells, as well as women who have a compromised immune system, should discuss their specific screening needs with their doctor.

Also, women still are being advised to have an annual pelvic exam. "The annual gynecological exam is important for preventive health and discussing other concerns with your provider, such as family planning and, as you get older, menopaus
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