Since early detection is so important, you may think that you can't be too vigilant when screening for cervical cancer. However, a new government study says doctors aren't following guidelines on HPV checks, and it could have a negative effect on women's health.
National guidelines say that only women 30 or older need to have routine Pap smears and HPV tests, but a CDC study of 600 health care providers found 60% are giving both tests to women in their teens and 20s, CBS News reports. Debbie Saslow of the American Cancer Society says that doctors aren't encouraged to give both tests to younger women because HPV is common and the infection will often clear up on its own. Women under 30 are supposed to be tested for HPV if their Pap smear shows there's a problem, but testing positive for HPV can increase a young woman's chances of having more invasive testing that could lead to fertility issues.
The study found many doctors are also using outdated HPV tests. The first one on the market tested for strains of the virus that cause genital warts, not cervical cancer. No one wants to find warts on their genitals, but you don't really need to know that you have the strain that causes them. Newer tests are designed to check for strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer, but research shows 28% of health care providers are still ordering two tests, and billing patients for both.
In case you're not up on your American College of Obstetricians and Gynocologists guidelines, here's what they say should be happening during your exams:
- Routine Paps start at age 21
- Most women in their 20s get a Pap every two years
- Women 30 and older wait three years between screenings if they've tested negative on both Pap and HPV tests, or three consecutive clear Paps
- If Pap is inconclusive at any age, HPV testing may help rule out who needs further examination and who can just repeat a Pap in a year
- Anyone who's been vaccinated against relatively new HPV still must follow Pap screening guidelines for their age group
- Higher-risk women, such as those with HIV or previous cervical abnormalities, need more frequent screening
So if you're looking for a topic of conversation to distract yourself from the awkwardness of someone poking and prodding your lady business, you may want to have a chat with your gynecologist about exactly what tests you're receiving.