Like many health-conscious women, for twenty-some years, I’ve hauled my naked self into the gyno’s office to get my annual Pap. My cooch literally starts cringing the day I make the appointment and doesn’t relax until after the whole shebang is finito.
But good news, ladies! The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is releasing new guidelines on cervical cancer screenings that will likely change all that.
New Pap Smear Guidelines For Low Risk Women
- No Pap smears necessary before the age of 21, even if you’re sexually active. (Teens, you can relax. Even if you get HPV, chances are good that your strong immune systems will clear it before it becomes a problem, and avoiding early screening may prevent unnecessary surgeries like LEEP procedures that may predispose you to pregnancy complications like miscarriage and preterm birth from incompetent cervix.
- From 21-30, Pap smears are recommended every three years, instead of yearly. Combining the Pap test with HPV testing every three to five years is the preferred strategy for women aged 30 and older. Annual Paps are specifically recommended against.
- No Paps after 65. Screening is not recommended for women 65 or older who have had three or more normal Pap tests in a row and no abnormal Pap test results in the past 10 years, or who have had two or more negative HPV tests in the past 10 years.
- Women who have a normal Pap result and a positive HPV test result should repeat both tests or receive a gene test determining whether they have HPV 16 and 18, which cause 70% of cervical cancers. (Old guidelines recommended immediate colposcopy, but not anymore.)
- Women with a mildly abnormal Pap result (called ASCUS) and a negative HPV test result should follow up with either HPV testing plus a Pap test, or HPV testing alone, at intervals of three years or longer.(In other words, ASCUS with negative HPV is not considered abnormal.)
- Women who have been vaccinated against HPV should begin cervical cancer screening at the same age as unvaccinated women, i.e. at age 21.
If your Pap smears have showed precancerous changes on your cervix in the past, like mine have, the rules are different. So ask your doctor to make sure you understand what guidelines apply to you.
BEFORE YOU GET TOO PSYCHED and start dancing the hoochie coochie…
Keep in mind that you’ll still need annual physical exams. Most docs still recommend an annual physical, including an internal pelvic exam for women (and possibly, though it’s controversial, annual breast exams.) Your doctor will still likely require that you get your annual exam before she’ll refill your yearly medications, such as birth control pills or hormone replacement. But at least you can skip the scary metal duckbill!
Next: Why the changes?
Why The Changes?
The more we know about cervical cancer screening, the more the scientists learn about the pluses and minuses that accompany screening tests like this. Fortunately, we’ve WAY decreased the risk of cervical cancer by instituting Pap smears. In the 1930’s, cervical cancer was the deadliest women’s cancer. Not anymore. In 2009, only 4,000 women died of cervical cancer, many fewer than almost all other woman-specific cancers. Most cases of cervical cancer now exist in women who haven’t had a Pap smear for 10 years or longer.
On the flip side, Pap smear screening results in lots more testing, lots of procedures, lots more surgery, and consequently, lots more complications. Researchers are trying to find out just the right frequency to keep Pap smear benefits while minimizing the risks associated with overtreatment.
What Can You Do? Heal Yourself
Just don’t skip your Pap smears when it’s your time. Fortunately, unlike ovarian cancers or even breast cancers, most cervical cancers usually begin with precancerous changes that can be detected long before they become cancer, so even if you wait three years for your Pap, the precancerous changes will rarely progress. As long as you get your Pap smears on time and follow your doctor’s recommendations, you shouldn’t go from normal to cancer in three years.
I’m a big believer in self-healing and positive thinking, so start with positive beliefs. Trust that you won’t get cervical cancer. Love your cervix. Heal any sexual traumas from your past so they don’t come rearing their ugly head in the form of gynecological health problems. Kick cancer to the curb of your mind.
Then get your Pap smears on time, just because cervical cancer is so preventable that you don’t want to mess around.
What are you thoughts about the new Pap smear guidelines? Dish!
Yours, in health,
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Woman coach, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.