Cancer Screening Guidelines Changed for Women: Annual Pap Tests No Longer Endorsed

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has changed its guideline recommendations for women, and the American Cancer Society no longer endorses annual Pap smear tests.

The USPSTF is now recommending that the HPV (Human Papillomavirus) test be conducted, which comes after an earlier statement saying there was not enough evidence for a recommendation. Now there is enough evidence, and women over 30 are encouraged to get the HPV test along with an annual Pap smear.

"HPV tests, available since 2003, have proven to be quite sensitive in detecting the presence of high-risk viruses in the cervix that could go on to become cancerous," noted Alice Park.

The American Cancer Society supports the use of HPV tests and states: "All women should begin cervical cancer screening at age 21. Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every three years. They should not be tested for HPV unless it is needed after an abnormal Pap test result."

"Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have both a Pap test and an HPV test every five years," the ACS states. "This is the preferred approach, but it is also okay to have a Pap test alone every three years."

Dr. Debbie Saslow of the American Cancer Society has expressed her support for the new guidelines and explains why they have been changed.

"The risk of getting cancer for a woman who is screened every three years with the Pap test is extremely low and similar to the risk of cancer when screened every five years with both the HPV test and the Pap test," she said.

"In fact, in the United States, most women who get cervical cancer have not been screened in at least five years," Saslow noted. "About half of them have never been screened in their lifetime."