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New Pap Test Guidelines: Start Later, Have Fewer
Date:11/20/2009

Experts urge first screen at 21, then once every 2 years or more, not annually,,

FRIDAY, Nov. 20 (HealthDay News) -- For the second time in a week, medical experts are revising the advice given women on cancer screenings.

Now women are being told that they should get their first screening for cervical cancer -- including a Pap test -- at age 21. The recommendation appears in guidelines released Nov. 20 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

And, rather than have an annual Pap test, most women need to be screened every other year or less, depending on their age, the guidelines say.

The recommendations come on the heels of a similar advisory on breast cancer screening, issued Nov. 16 by a government panel of experts, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Those guidelines suggest that the average woman need not have a mammogram to screen for breast cancer until age 50 and, after that, should have the test every other year rather than annually.

Those suggested changes stirred a firestorm of debate.

Under the new Pap test guidelines:

  • Women are advised to get their first test at age 21. Previously, the recommendation was to start Pap tests three years after becoming sexually active or at age 21, whichever came first.
  • Most women 21 to 30 should have a Pap test once every two years instead of every year.
  • Women 30 and older who've had three consecutive negative tests and no abnormal history need to be re-screened only once every three years.
  • No changes are recommended for older women. After no abnormal Pap result for 10 years and three or more negative results consecutively, women can stop the test at age 65 or 70.

Why the revisions? "Because it was time," said Dr. Alan G. Waxman, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico, who drafted the document for the organization. The last revisions w
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