Task Force Recommends Women Get Fewer Pap Tests

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"The main difference is that, dating back to 2002, the American Cancer Society and several other organizations recommended that HPV testing, along with the Pap test, is a good option for screening women starting at age 30," said Debbie Saslow, the American Cancer Society's director of breast and gynecologic cancer, who noted that several studies show the testing provides even further insight into cancer prevention.

Two years ago, the task force made new recommendations that low-risk women receive a mammogram every two years, rather than every year. Last week, the task force stirred up debate when the panel recommended against PSA tests for prostate screenings in healthy men, which many get yearly.

The task force also recommended against testing women younger than 30 for HPV. The doctors wrote there is insufficient evidence as to whether HPV testing, alone or in combination with Pap smears, adds to cervical cancer prevention. "HPV often clears on its own and is prevalent in younger patients," said Mishori. "Not screening so frequently will give time for the infection to clear on its own, as it often does, and help ensure that too many unnecessary follow-ups and procedures will be avoided."

It is important to note that a Pap smear does not mean annual screening. Experts noted that women often confuse the two, but women still need their annual pelvic and breast examinations.

"With all these different recommendations, we run the risk of having people to start missing their Paps and make it seem like they're not important enough," said Dr. Jacques Moritz, director of gynecology at St. Luke's-Roosevelt in New York City. "You still need your annual exam. That means, you need your breast and pelvic exam, you just don't need the actual swabbing of the cervix every year."

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