November 20, 2009

Fewer Pap smears, safer public?

Print More

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is now recommending that women wait until the age of 21 to get a Pap smear, regardless of their sexual history, and that women undergo Pap smears less frequently.

The recommendations follow this week’s similar advice to scale back breast cancer screenings, counsel which raised the ire of doctors, radiologists and breast cancer survivors (including WA Gov. Chris Gregoire) across the country.

It’s hard to figure that eliminating Pap smears in young women is a good idea, given that 74 percent of all Human papillomavirus (HPV cases) occur in people 15 to 24 years old, and that women are typically only screened for HPV if they have an abnormal Pap smear.  Men rarely, if ever, are screened for HPV, even though  HPV can develop into cancers of the cervix, vagina, rectum, anus and penis if left untreated.  The advisory board says young women’s bodies can resolve the abnormalities caused by HPV without medical attention.

Regular Pap smears have reduced cervical cancer by 70 percent in the last 50 years, but doctors now say that the benefits of each Pap smear can be stretched over a longer period of time.

Some doctors and Republicans are wondering if these recommendations — which would save insurance providers money — are meant to reduce costs for a national system if Obama’s health care reform ambitions are satisfied.

The advisory boards that issued the revised guidelines say that they will help reduce the number of false positives and subsequent unneeded treatment and anxiety.

Comments are closed.