Young women should delay their first Pap test for cervical cancer until their 21st birthday, and many others can wait longer for follow-up testing, according to new guidelines released on Nov. 20, 2009 by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG).
ACOG made new recommendations about the test used to screen for cervical cancer after determining more frequent testing did not catch significantly more cancer and often resulted in girls and young women experiencing unnecessarily stress and anxiety, and sometimes harmful treatments of suspicious growths that would not cause health problems.
Alan G. Waxman, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico led the revision of the guidelines. Dr. Waxman said, more testing is not always more intelligent testing.
“The incidence of cervical cancer in 15-to 19-year-olds has been reported at 1 to 2 per million girls. That’s a lot of unnecessary pelvic exams and unnecessary potential treatments that can be avoided.”
The new screening recommendations comes amid pointed controversy over new guidelines from a federal task force that women wait until age 50 before they begin having routine mammograms and that women age 50 to 74 scale back to getting the exams routinely every two years.
The American Cancer Society, which has led the opposition to the mammography guidelines issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, was involved in the discussions leading up to the Pap test guidelines and will consider them in reevaluating its own recommendations, said Debbie Saslow, PhD, American Cancer Society, director of breast and gynecologic cancer.
Cervical cancer screening guidelines have evolved as scientists have gained a greater understanding of how the disease develops. Almost all cervical cancers are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus or HPV and most tend to develop slowly. Over the last 30 years, screening has decreased the cervical cancer incidence rate by half, according to ACOG, which could affect as many as 11,270 US women in 2009.