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Women’s cancer screening guidelines

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Some women’s health experts are worried that new guidelines for cervical cancer screening will get lost in the loud debate over breast cancer testing. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says women should begin cervical cancer screenings at age 21, rather than an earlier age.


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Gynecologist Christina Chu treats cancer patients at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania. She says the standard cervical cancer screening test called a Pap smear detects HPV (human papillomavirus) infections than can lead to cancer. But for teenagers, Chu says those infections often do not become a problem.

Chu: For young girls who have mild or even some moderate pre-cancerous lesions identified of the cervix. These are things that will often resolve by themselves within a couple of years. The immune system will take care of the HPV infection. Those precancerous spots will go away.

Experts say starting cervical cancer screenings at age 21 could prevent unnecessary surgeries that come with remote but serious risks, including infertility or premature delivery if a woman does becomes pregnant.

For women age 21 to 29, gynecologists group now recommends a screening test every two years, instead of annually. Dr. Katherine Sherif leads the Drexel Center for Women’s Health.

She says the new guidelines for teens are correct, but she disagrees with the new recommendation for women in their 20s.

Sherif: It has been hammered into us to do Pap smears every year. It is one of the most successful public health initiatives that we’ve had in this country. If you change it to every other year, I think that’s a problem and I think that we are giving the wrong message.

Sherif says she doesn’t want women to lose momentum, or underestimate the importance of regular screening in their 20s.

More info:
Cancer screening guidelines from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

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