Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines Updated
Updated guidelines for cervical cancer screening from a government-appointed panel of experts are giving women new options. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) said the new guidelines “focus on ensuring that women receive adequate screening, regardless of which strategy is used.” The new guidelines are published in the journal JAMA.
It is now recommended that women ages 30 to 65 be screened for cervical cancer with a test for “high risk” strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) every five years. Women in that age range could also choose to be screened for cervical cancer with the Pap test alone every three years.
High-risk strains of HPV cause about 90 percent of cervical cancers. Most HPV infections clear up on their own, but sometimes the virus remains active in the body, which can eventually lead to cervical cancer. Both the HPV test and the Pap test look at cells from a woman’s cervix.
Previously, those women were told that they should get both the HPV test and the Pap test every five years. Co-testing in this way is still a recommended option and can be done with just one cervical swab. Patients should speak with their doctor about which testing method is best for them.
The updated guidelines are based on the findings of recent studies that found testing for high-risk strains of HPV detected a higher rate of precancerous lesions in the cervix than Pap tests. A separate study found that both HPV testing alone and co-testing were marginally more effective at reducing deaths from cervical cancer than Pap testing alone. However, both the HPV test alone and co-testing were found to have higher rates of false positives than the Pap test.
The USPSTF says that the new guidelines do not apply to women who have symptoms of cervical cancer or women who have previously been diagnosed with cervical cancer or with a high-grade precancerous lesion. The guidelines also do not apply to women who have a condition that weakens their immune system, such as HIV. For women under age 30 and over age 65, the USPSTF’s guidelines haven’t changed.