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American Cancer Society updates cervical cancer screening guidelines

Recent efforts to prevent cervical cancer have led to a shift in screening measures

Photo (c) Chinnapong - Getty Images
The American Cancer Society has announced changes to the standing guidelines for cervical cancer screenings. 

Rather than perform a cervical exam on a routine basis, experts found that doctors can make the process more efficient by testing for human papillomavirus (HPV) more regularly, as the infection is one of the leading causes of cervical cancer. 

“These streamlined recommendations can improve compliance and reduce potential harms,” said Debbie Saslow, PhD, an expert at the American Cancer Society. “They are made possible by some important developments that have allowed us to transform our approach to cervical cancer screening, primarily a deeper understanding of the role of HPV and the development of tools to address it.” 

Testing when necessary

Medical professionals from the American Cancer Society found that there are several ways to revamp the process of screening for cervical cancer. 

The previous guidelines recommended starting the testing process at age 21, with regular Pap tests to assess for any abnormalities. However, it’s been nearly a decade since these guidelines have been published, and data around HPV infections has changed. 

Not only are the levels of HPV infection going down thanks to several effective vaccines, but there has been no evidence indicating that starting testing at 21 is necessary. The report explained that the rate of women in their early 20s developing cervical cancer is incredibly low, and numbers are only expected to dip because of such widespread vaccine use. 

Now, the experts are calling for testing to begin at age 25. When it comes to performing the test, there are two recommended options for medical professionals: either a Pap test every three years or an HPV test and a Pap test every five years. They also explained that testing should continue through age 65 as long as there is no history of cervical cancer or any other related medical concerns. 

Representatives at the American Cancer Society believe these updated protocols will be beneficial in keeping cases of cervical cancer down. 

“We estimate that compared with the currently recommended strategy of cytology (Pap testing) alone beginning at age 21 and switching to co-testing at age 30 years, starting with primary HPV testing at age 25 will prevent 13 percent more cervical cancers and seven percent more cervical cancer deaths,” said Dr. Saslow. “Our model showed we could do that with a nine percent increase in follow-up procedures, but with 45 percent fewer tests required overall.” 

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