New recommendations sent Thursday to the 45,000 members of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggest that caregivers revise their guidelines for screening women for cervical cancer. Echoing similar recommendations released earlier this year by the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the college now suggests that a number of women do not need annual Pap tests and that cervical cancer screenings can begin later than previously recommended. Most women who have consecutive normal Pap tests need to be subsequently rescreened only every three years. The only exception to the three-year rule is women ages 21 to 30, because most infections with human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervix changes and precancerous conditions, occur in this age group.
The guidelines also should be changed to begin screening women for the condition at age 21 or about three years after the onset of sexual activity, whichever comes first, according to the new recommendations. Previous guidelines called for Pap tests to begin at age 18 or at the onset of sexual activity.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 15,000 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed this year and about 4,000 American women will die of the disease.