New Cervival Cancer Screening Guidelines: No More 'Annual' Pap Smears

"I was convinced I was dying, that I had cancer. There was not enough education back then," said Nicole C., a resident of La Porte, Texas, who was diagnosed at age 22 with cervical dysplasia -- an abnormal Pap smear -- caused by HPV. "My doctor at the time made me feel horrible about myself, accusing me of not being truthful about how many partners I'd had."

Reducing Anxiety Now and Later On

Nicole, who asked that her last name not be used for privacy reasons, had her first abnormal Pap smear in 1998. As the years passed, more of her friends were diagnosed with cervical dysplasia in their 20s.

As Nicole started serving as an impromptu counselor to explain how HPV is spread, she aimed to soothe fears and reduce the stigma.

"If I had known more back then, I would not have freaked out about it," she said. "I wished they had done that [changed the guidelines] years ago."

Many doctors say they recognize the same anxiety on their young patients' faces.

"Yes, the diagnosis of an abnormal Pap can cause emotional distress to an adolescent girl, and I have certainly seen that," said Dr. Elizabeth Alderman of Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y. "[Cervical biopsies] and repeat Pap smears with visits cost a lot of money."

In fact, some doctors felt the new recommendations did not go far enough.

Dr. Diane Harper of the University of Missouri-Kansas, who specializes in HPV infections, felt that ACOG is behind the other recommending bodies in the United States that argue screening should start at age 25, not age 21.

"There is ample evidence that screening earlier than 25 years is only costly with many false positives," said Harper. "The rest of the world is going to an every-five-or-six-year screening interval ... and ACOG is now just endorsing the three-year interval for HPV negative and Pap negative [women]."

Doctors speaking to ABCNews.com also said they felt the best way to prevent more cancer deaths wasn't to re-screen women who are already seeing doctors regularly, but to try to get women who aren't getting screenings at all into the doctors.

"Whether we screen everybody every two or three years isn't probably not going to make a big difference I don't think, just as long as they are getting screened," said Curtin. "The fact remains there are unscreened patients and they are at risk for cancer."

Doctors speaking to ABCNews.com also said they felt the best way to prevent more cancer deaths wasn't to re-screen women who are already seeing doctors regularly, but to try to get women who aren't getting screenings at all into the doctors.

"Whether we screen everybody every two or three years is probably not going to make a big difference, just as long as they are getting screened," said Curtin. "The fact remains there are unscreened patients and they are at risk for cancer."

Negative Effects of Fewer Pap Smears Unknown

On the other hand, many women admit that the only reason they go to a doctor is for an annual Pap smear and contraception. For those reasons, some doctors worry such women won't receive any medical checkups at all.

"Honestly, the first time it was discovered, I was going to Planned Parenthood for contraception because I had just become sexually active. It was only my second partner," said Alicia, a 32-year-old woman from New Orleans who also did not want her last name used.

Alicia had her first abnormal Pap smear when she was 18.

"I cried, and I really, really freaked out," she said.

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