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Cancer experts are advising that women get screened for cervical cancer less frequently than doctors currently recommend, NPR reports.
Guidelines released by the American Cancer Society and two other medical groups now recommend that women wait until they turn 21 to get their first Pap smear, and then only get tested every three years thereafter if everything looks okay. This goes against the long-standing recommendation that screening should begin either at age 21 or three years after the onset of sexual activity.
Debbie Saslow of the ACS says that cervical cancer is rare in young women, so there’s no reason to start earlier than age 21. And the cancer grows very slowly, so there’s no danger in waiting longer between tests. “If you compare the benefit of annual screening to screening every three years with the Pap test it’s almost nothing,” she said.
Also factoring into the recommendation is that Pap tests often produce false alarms, so more frequent testing can result in unnecessary procedures to ensure there’s no cancer, Saslow added.
The new guidelines also advise women to cease Pap smears at age 65, provided there’s no evidence of cervical cancer risk in earlier screenings.