The new Pap smear guidelines follow hot on the heels of the new mammogram advice that just recently led to flaring tempers. Are the new pap smears recommendations likely to be as controversial as the mammogram guidelines?
Pap Smear Guidelines are Changing
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released new Pap smear guidelines that dramatically decrease the frequency of the exam. The organization now recommends that women wait until they are 21 years of age before receiving their first pap smears. Women younger than 30 may forego annual rescreening and instead opt for biennial pap smears; women older than 30 can stretch it out to three years in between pap smears.
2003 Pap Smear Guidelines
Just six short years ago, the ACOG offered different pap smears recommendations. The 2003 Pap smear guidelines stated that women 21 years of age or older as well as those younger, who had been sexually active, are candidates for pap smears. As a general rule of thumb, women under the age of 30 were to have annual Pap smear tests, while those over the age of 30 – with three normal pap tests in three consecutive years – could stretch out their rescreening to one test every two to three years.
For the Uninitiated: What IS the Pap Smear?
The annual Pap smear is a test that is dreaded by women. It involves lying on an exam table in the most undignified position possible and having the physician remove a small cell sample scraping from the cervix. While the Pap smear does not detect cancer, it does note the presence of abnormal cervical cells, which may be indicative of the presence of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer may occur even in women who are celibate or do not menstruate.
Why the New Pap Smear Guidelines?
In an odd bit of reporting, the ACOG advises that cervical cancer rates have decreased to the tune of 50% in the last 30 years; quoting the American Cancer Society, the ACOG attributes the bulk of deaths to the population of women, who receive infrequent Pap smear tests. Nevertheless, the rationale behind the new guidelines is the supposition that fewer screenings are just as effective at preventing cervical cancers; in addition, the cost savings factor into the submission of the new Pap smear plan.
Another reason – somewhat echoing one of the rationales behind the new mammogram advice – is the reduction of anxiety in women. While it is true that false positive test results do cause anxiety, it is questionable if Pap smear guidelines and also mammogram recommendations must be changed for everyone to protect the few with a weaker psyche from possible upset.