The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists released new cervical cancer screening guidelines today. The new guidelines indicate that women should delay their first Pap test until they are 21 and should have subsequent screenings every two years until the age of 30 and every three years after the age of 30.
These new guidelines have caused some controversy, primarily because of timing; a federal task force released new and fiercely contested mammogram recommendations earlier this week. Dr. Iglesia, the chairwoman of a panel in the obstetricians’ group that developed the Pap smear guidelines, told the New York Times, “There’s no political agenda with regard to these recommendations.” She cites research that shows young women are particularly likely to develop cervical abnormalities that will disappear without treatment, and can cause more harm when removed, often resulting in cervical damage and problems during pregnancy.
Cervical cancer is caused by the sexually transmitted Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Debbie Saslow of the American Cancer Society told CNN in an interview, “Getting an annual Pap test is the equivalent to getting a mammogram every four months. Breast cancer on average is growing at a point where, if you get a mammogram every two years, you will miss a lot of deadly cancers that you would have caught if you’re having them every year. This is not true for cervical cancer; we are detecting pre-cancers that are taking 10 to 20 years to develop into cancer.”
The Journal of the American Medical Association (AMA) reports that over one-third of American women are infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV) by the age of 24. While the majority of HPV strains are benign, some strains can cause cervical cancer and genital warts. About 2.2 percent of infected women have a strain that is high-risk for cervical cancer, the recent research finds. Gardasil, which prevents cervical cancer and genital warts caused by HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18, was approved by the FDA in June 2006.