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Cervical cancer testing depends on woman's age

March 15, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
For thousands of women, the yearly visit to their gynecologist is about to change. New guidelines released on Wednesday give women choices for cervical cancer testing depending on age.

It was once recommended that women get a Pap test every year, but that is no longer considered the best way to screen for cervical cancer in healthy women.

Many women get the Human Pappiloma Virus test with their Pap smear, which is recommended every three years. But now, the American Cancer Society and other groups say many women between 30 and 65 can go five years between tests if they have negative Pap smears and HPV screenings.

It's partly because of a new understanding about the virus, and there is evidence that getting cervical cancer test too often can create other problems.

"What this new consensus is telling us is we can be less aggressive and have the same beneficial outcome of preventing cervical cancer," said Dr. Amy Rosenman from St. John's Health Center.

Rosenman says medical experts have long believed yearly pap smears were unnecessary for many women because cervical cancer grows slowly, and more often than not, the cervical cell irregularities identified by pap smears eventually heal themselves.

But Rosenman stresses, women will still need to have annual exams with their doctors, and if they have new sexual partners, a Pap smear and HPV screening is recommended.

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