Pap smear guidelines are changing less than a week after new guidelines on mammograms were released. Pap smears and mammograms are two of the most crucial tests that women can get. A pap smear screens women for changes in their cervical cells that may indicate cervical cancer.
Previous pap smear guidelines stated that women should get their first pap smear within 3 years of sexual intercourse or at age 21 – whichever comes first. They then recommended pap smears annually thereafter.
New pap smear guidelines stipulate that women should wait until the age of 21 to receive a pap smear, and then have a pap every 2 years until they reach the age of 30, when it’s “safe” to have one every three years.
Experts say that the reason for the change is to minimize the risk of over-treating women with “normal” cervical changes. They state that over diagnosing young women after an abnormal pap does more harm than good.
I am not happy with the new pap smear guidelines. Why? Because I had a brush with cervical cancer. I am in my mid-twenties and had the test religiously each and every year. Still, I had an abnormal pap come back and after further tests it was indicated that I had adenocarcinoma in situ, which is stage 0 non-invasive cervical cancer. While I was treated and am now cured, it was still a scary event.
Imagine after one normal pap, my doctor told me I didn’t have to go back for two years. In that two year period of time, the stage 0 could have developed into far worse problems. While cervical cancer usually is slow to develop, the changes could have prompted me to have to have a hysterectomy at a very early age.
Pap smears are quick and easy. They are also cheap. It takes less than 2 minutes for a doctor to perform the test. If it comes back abnormal, a doctor has many options to treat you. Personally, I think over-treating is better than under treating.
I think it’s awfully strange how all these new guidelines are coming out in the wake of the Healthcare reform. It almost seems as if doctors are working with lobbyists and politicians to minimize exposure to health care costs.
Women should talk to their healthcare providers about their individual risks of developing certain problems. Some women may still need annual pap smears – especially if they have a history of harmful changes in cervical cells.