The American Cancer Society, hoping to spare women from unnecessary medical procedures, this week announced new cervical cancer screening guidelines that say some women at low risk for the disease do not need to get Pap tests. The society's last guidelines, issued in 1987, recommended that all women at least 18 years old receive a Pap test and a pelvic exam yearly; the test could be performed less frequently if a woman had three consecutive normal exams.
The new guidelines say testing isn't needed at all for young women who are not sexually active, for women 70 or older who have had normal Pap tests in the past, and for women who have had hysterectomies. Sexually active women should begin getting Pap tests within three years of the start of sexual activity, but no later than age 21, according to the new guidelines. Newer types of Pap tests also allow women to be tested every two years instead of once per year. The goal is to "diminish the number of invasive procedures done to prove a woman doesn't have cancer," said Carmel Cohen, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York's Mount Sinai Medical Center who led the society's review committee.