I ran across an interesting article on MSNBC about pap smear screening with a summary of recommendations by the American College of OB -GYN. I think it does a nice job of clarifying how often women need to be screened for cervical cancer with a pap smear and HPV testing. However, I did want to make a few comments. Most GYN practices are doing the HPV with the pap smear testing on women between 30-65 to establish the risk factors, Prior to that age HPV is of little benefit, unless there are significant changes on the pap smear. After 65, the risk for cervical cancer begins to decrease. Those women with negative HPV and /or 3 negative pap smears, can have the pap smear less frequently.
However, the point that is not clear in the article is that the pap smear is not the whole story. During the annual exam, the woman is generally evaluated for thyroid changes, breast changes, hormonal issues, vulvar changes, or lesions, vaginal discharges, uterine enlargement, irregular bleeding, and ovarian issues. In addition, when indicated a rectal exam is performed, STD testing may be requested, and the list continues…. The bottom line, although the pap smear may not be needed as frequently, the annual exam is still needed at all the ages. What specifically we check for is changes, based on risk factors. As providers, we are committed to keeping women healthy at every age!