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Gynecologists Change Recommendations for Pap Smears

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Photo by cursedthing via Flickr


Photo by cursedthing via Flickr
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) has changed it's recommendation for the onset and frequency of Pap smears for women.

Until this week, medical guidelines have called for women to get annual Pap smears, which check for cervical cancer and other cervical and reproductive abnormalities, beginning no later than three years after becoming sexually active, or at age 21 (whichever comes first). The change now recommends that every woman begin screening at age 21, and reduces the frequency of Pap smears for certain women who have had consistently normal results.

This is a tough pill to swallow for a lot of people; the suggestion to receive less preventive care rather than more is certainly counter-intuitive. But local women's health clinics are taking the recommendations seriously, and determining how they will incorporate them into care provided.

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"Planned Parenthood’s medical standards and guidelines pertaining to cervical cancer screenings are based on guidelines from U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSF), ACOG, and the American Cancer Society (ACS)," said Sara Shirrell, Director of Public Affairs at Planned Parenthood Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley, adding that protocols will remain the same while the new recommendations are being evaluated.

ACOG has said that the reason for the change is that growing evidence has demonstrated that the risks accompanying medical procedures that follow an abnormal Pap smear -- many of which turn out to be for naught -- outweigh the benefits. According to the New York Times:

There are 11,270 new cases of cervical cancer and 4,070 deaths per year in the United States. One to 2 cases occur per 1,000,000 girls ages 15 to 19 — a low incidence that convinces many doctors that it is safe to wait until 21 to screen.

Since they're just guidelines rather than legislation, women still have the choice to get annual Pap smears (known as annual exams, and adding to the confusion) if they so choose.

If you're in possession of a uterus and you would like to get tested, Shirrell adds that Planned Parenthood offers Pap smears as well as "STD testing and treatment, birth control services, pregnancy testing and options counseling and much more."