Your Future Just Got a Little Less Pap SmearyS

Ever since the Republicans began waging their backwards little War on Women, all the talk about between-the-legs matters has focused on the evils of contraception. So it's been easy to forget that there are other dangerous things that can happen to our lady parts besides rampant sluttiness. One of them is cervical cancer, and interestingly there are new guidelines just out from the American Cancer Society that recommend women get screened less often for it than had previously been recommended. Hooray?

You may know, thanks to your vivid memories of the annual jab to your cervix, the previous recommendation was that women start getting a Pap test ever year or two starting at age 21 (or three years after becoming sexually active). But now, after reviewing all the latest science involved, the groups decided it was actually better for women to get smeared a little less often. (Huh, that sounds grosser than it should.) So now women should wait until they're 21 to start, and then get tested only every three years if everything looks fine. It sounds backwards to get tested less not more, but Debbie Saslow, of the American Cancer Society, says, "If you compare the benefit of annual screening to screening every three years with the Pap test it's almost nothing." Well, alrighty then.

According to these new guidelines, women 30 and over should be getting a Pap test and the HPV test (which detects the human papillomavirus, a known cause of cervical cancer). If both of those tests are negative, then most women can go at least five years before getting the tests again. Score! And finally, once you turn 65, if everything looks good, you can basically stop getting screened for cervical cancer all together.

Don't worry, this isn't some Republican plot to bring on your premature death—it's actually meant to protect your cervix from unnecessary harassment. Debbie Saslow says these changes were brought about for a few different reasons. The first is that cervical cancer is very rare in young women, so screening earlier than 21 doesn't really help. Secondly, cervical cancer grows quite slowly, so waiting between tests in older women won't do any harm.

Frequent testing can also cause real damage. Pap tests often result in false alarms, which lead to more procedures to check for cancer. These can end up damaging the cervix, and the more of these follow-up procedures you have, the higher the risk of causing problems for women later, if they want to have children. The other factor is that the HPV test changes things. Saslow says, "The addition of this HPV test adds so much accuracy to the result that screening more frequently than five years will again be more harmful and not more beneficial."

As nice as it will be to forgo the annual cervix swabbing, these new guidelines do not exempt you from your yearly meeting with the cold hard truth of the speculum. Just because you're not getting a Pap smear doesn't mean you don't still need an annual exam from your doctor, since there are plenty of other problems that can arise other than cervical cancer. Plus, duh, you've got to go in an renew your prescription for whore pills—at least while they're still readily available for your frivolous consumption.

Doctors Revamp Guidelines For Pap Smears [NPR]

Image via Valeriy Velikov/Shutterstock.