Illustration for article titled More Confusing Recommendations For Your Cervix

Get ready to update your gynecological scorecards, because now we have yet another recommendation on what should be happening to your lady business every year. While more and more doctors are using tests for HPV, an influential federal advisory panel has announced it won't endorse HPV screening and only recommends Pap smears every three years for most women.

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According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force says women under 30 shouldn't use HPV tests to check for cervical cancer because compared to Pap tests they're more likely to produce false positives and may lead to "unnecessary diagnostic procedures, treatments, and the consequent harms may increase." As for women older than 30, the panel didn't conclude that HPV testing is harmful, but it said, "the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of HPV testing, alone or in combination with" Pap tests. The group still needs to see more studies on the subject, so essentially scientists shook up the Magic 8-Ball that resides between your legs and got "ask again later."

The panel is still all for Pap smears in women ages 21 to 66, which it noted has "substantially" reduced the number of cervical cancer deaths, but it says women in this age group only need to be tested every three years if their results are normal. Dr. Michael LeFevre, a member of the task force, acknowledged that this isn't what's happening in many gynecologists' offices. "There are women who have been told for so long that they need an annual Pap smear that they keep on doing it," he said. If you're one of the many women who get an annual Pap to liberate the birth control your doctor is holding hostage, LeFevre's suggestion that women determine when they'll get the tests may be a bit confusing.

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Illustration for article titled More Confusing Recommendations For Your Cervix

The American Cancer Society has recommended that women over 30 get HPV and Pap tests, so its guidelines are now in conflict with the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Part of the reason experts are hesitant to recommend too much testing is that the required follow up exams are more invasive and can cause fertility issues. They're also concerned about making women worry unnecessarily that they may have cancer, but that shouldn't really be an issue. Trying to figure out how and when we should be poked and prodded is already stressing us out.

Guidelines Set On Cervical-Cancer Screening [WSJ]
Health Panel Cautious On HPV Screening Vs Pap [Reuters]

Image via lznogood/Shutterstock.

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DISCUSSION

The logic behind this baffles me. If it's a choice between "Have a test once a year to make sure everything is fine and catch a potentially deadly cancer as well as a host of other issues" or "Have a test every three years and just know that eh, statistically I'll probably be okay" I'm going to choose the option where I know I'm okay. Everyone thinks cancer won't happen to them, and not everyone is right.

The repercussions of this worry me too. Every three years is a random thing to remember - I know my yearlies generally take place plus or minus up to 6 months, and I can see women easily going 4 or 5 years in between visits. Add in that for most women, this is not only the only time they generally see a gyno but a doctor period throughout the year, and that these tests are normally done in conjunction with general weight, health, and blood pressure tests. I feel like I could predict all sorts of negative health consequences as well as possibly increased rates of cancer if these restrictions went into place (i.e. health insurance stopped paying for yearlies). Higher rates of STDs are only one of the first that come to mind. Women live longer and tend to be healthier than men, and I'd bet money that a large part of that is that women see more doctors more regularly than men do, who don't have a yearly meeting with a penis doctor.

I don't know where we got this idea that ignoring your health means you're healthy.