New York: Women only need to get a Pap test once every three years to check for cervical cancer, and don`t need to be screened until age 21 - even if they`re sexually active earlier, according to new guidelines from a government-backed panel.The statement from the United States Preventive Services Task Force, released on Wednesday, aligns closely with guidelines from three US cancer groups that were also announced on Wednesday.Once they hit 30, women also have the option of getting screened once every five years if they choose to do Pap tests together with human papillomavirus (HPV) testing every time, the committees agreed."The bottom line is, we strongly recommend screening," said Dr. Virginia Moyer, chair of the USPSTF and a pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children`s Hospital in Dallas.The recommendation to test every three or five years is based on evidence that cervical cancer is relatively slow-growing, she said, so it`s very unlikely a woman would develop advanced cancer in the few years after a negative screening."The women who get and die of cervical cancer are the women who aren`t getting screened," Moyer. "It`s not the woman who hasn`t had a screen in a couple years that`s the problem."Moyer`s group attracted controversy late last year when it recommended against annual prostate cancer screening in men, after concluding that the possibility the tests could invite unnecessary and potentially harmful follow-up procedures outweighed their benefits.The USPSTF`s latest recommendations are based on a review of evidence on screening`s success at detecting pre-cancerous lesions, as well as both physical and psychological side effects of Pap and HPV tests. Its guidelines were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.The task force found a benefit for Pap tests every three years in women age 21 to 65, or every five years when Pap tests and HPV tests are done together, starting at 30.Screen more frequently, and the possibility of women getting complications from any related procedures - such as an exam and biopsy, called a colposcopy, following an abnormal Pap - outweighs any benefit to the extra tests.Women under 30 shouldn`t be tested for HPV because the sexually transmitted infection is common in young people and often goes away on its own, without increasing the cancer risk.Women who are older than 65 and were screened regularly in the past are also probably in the clear, unless they`re at particularly high risk due to a history of precancerous lesions.Until there`s more long-term data on women who`ve been vaccinated against HPV, they should continue getting normal screening, according to the report.
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