"In patients that go for yearly checkups, we usually catch these problems before they become cervical cancer," she said. "Or, if there is cervical cancer it is in an early stage where the chances of survival are greatest."
Guidelines from the American Cancer Society recommend that screening for cervical cancer start three years after a woman becomes sexually active, but no later than age 21. Screening should be done every year or every two years after that.
At age 30, if a woman has had three normal Pap tests in a row, she can be screened every three years. After age 70, if Pap tests have been normal for 10 years and three tests in a row, certain women may stop screening altogether, according to the guidelines.
However, Wu said she thinks sexually active women with different partners should be screened every year, regardless of previous findings.
The new vaccine to protect against the human papillomavirus (HPV) will protect women against about 70 percent of cervical cancers. But Andrae said even women who have been vaccinated need to continue Pap smears.
"The vaccine doesn't cover all HPV types. It covers the worst type, but there are still HPV types not covered, and you need to be screened for those," he said. "And also, you may have been infected before you were vaccinated and the vaccine won't do any good. That's why you have to go on being screened."
Many people are afraid screening might find cancer, so avoid these tests that could save their life, Andrae said. "You shouldn't fear what might be found in screening. Regular Pap smear screening is effective," he said.
Some screenings, such as the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test for prostate cancer, are less efficient, because abnormal findings can result in unnecessary treatment, Andrae said. But the Pap screening
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