New cervical cancer screening guidelines have been released by the U.S. Preventative Service Task Force, and they may be welcomed as good news by many: fewer Pap smears.
According to the new guidelines published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), women between the ages of 21 and 29 should get a Pap smear every three years, while women between the ages of 30 and 65 can get a human papilloma virus (HPV) test every five years in lieu of a Pap smear, a Pap smear every three years or a combination every five years.
Additionally, the task force says that women over age 65 who have had adequate testing in the past and have no other risk factors do not need to be tested, and women under age 21 do not need to be tested either.
Although the change may sound confusing to some, doctors say that the new guidelines actually simplify the process.
“I do not find that the longer interval is confusing to women — many, in fact, are relieved that they don’t have to undergo this procedure every year and are thankful to find out that they can wait three or five years before they need to get the next one,” Dr. Ranit Mishori, a professor of family medicine at Georgetown University, told NBC News.
Evidence has shown that the HPV test is effective enough to be used on its own for women over 30. In almost all cases, cervical cancer is caused by two strains of HPV.
“Five years is a good balance between the benefits and harms,” Dr. Douglas Owens, a professor of medicine at Stanford University and vice chair of the USPSTF, told NPR. “And we now have tests for HPV and that’s an important step forward.”
According to the American Cancer Society, in 2018, about 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed, and about 4,000 women die from the disease. Experts stress that it is still important to get screened per the new guidelines, which can be found here.