If you are a healthy woman age 30 or older, getting a yearly Pap test is so last year.
New guidelines released by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a federal government agency, say Pap testing every three years is now recommended. If you’re 30 or over, add a test for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes most cervical cancer, and you might not need another test for five years.
The American Cancer Society, in conjunction with other medical specialty societies, also published updated cervical cancer screening guidelines that are very similar to those released by USPSTF.
Current recommendations state that cancer screening of all women should begin at age 21. Experts now agree that girls and women below age 21 should not receive cervical cancer screening. For women aged 21-29, a Pap test every 3 years is recommended for women with normal screening history.
In women younger than 30, the HPV test isn’t performed, unless the Pap test signals a possible problem. That’s because most young women contract the virus and their bodies have not had adequate time to clear the infection on their own
The recommendations state that women 30 and older should receive Pap + HPV co-testing every 5 years as the preferred method of cervical cancer screening. This is because, when paired together, Pap + HPV testing is the most sensitive way to detect women at risk for developing cervical disease. Receiving a Pap test every three years is also considered an acceptable screening schedule.
The new recommendations also say cervical screening should end at age 65, at least for those with an appropriate screening history.
These new recommendations reflect a greater scientific understanding regarding the progression of cervical disease.
According to the experts, cervical cancer typically grows so slowly that regular Pap smears — which examine cells scraped from the cervix — identify cell changes early enough to treat before a tumor even forms.