By the end of the week dust had begun to settle over federal officials who stated that the recommended annual breast exam for women over 40 need only to take place every other year and not until they are into their 50s. The statement drew criticism from an assortment of people in the medical community and struck a chord with many cancer survivors who attribute the early detection of cancer cells to an annual mammogram exam. While the officials defend their statements by stating they were shared primarily to educate the female population on the necessity of an annual breast exam, the information did not go down easily for many American women.
Just as the public began to digest the recommendation, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology released early Friday that the annual pap smear, given to women in their 20’s to test for abnormalities in their cervix, may not be necessary and women should plan on taking this only every other year. The recommendation to have your cervix examined every two years is focused around results that the slow-growing cancer may go unchanged within the two years and iannual visits are therefore unnecessary.
The report, published by the Associated Press states:
• Routine Paps should start at age 21. Previously, ACOG had urged a first Pap either within three years of first sexual intercourse or at age 21.
• Women 30 and older should wait three years between Paps once they've had three consecutive clear tests. Other national guidelines have long recommended the three-year interval; ACOG had previously backed a two- to three-year wait.
• Women with HIV, other immune-weakening conditions or previous cervical abnormalities may need more frequent screening.
One of the benefits of an annual pap smear lies in its ability to detect pre-cancerous changes to the cervix and puts you one step ahead of fighting cervical cancer. The Associated Press article states, “[h]alf of women diagnosed with cervical cancer have never had a Pap, and another 10 percent haven't had one in five years.” So do Pap smears help?