January is Cervical Health Awareness Month.
Dr. Nicholas Klein, Director of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Nyack Hospital,
shares what women need to know about new cervical health guidelines.l

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. If often can be found early, and in somecases can even be prevented entirely, through Pap tests. New guidelines issued by several medical groups have changed the recommendations about how often women should receive this important screening test. Since January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, now is a good time to determinewhether you should schedule a gynecological exam and Pap test for the coming year. Until recently, women were advised to have annual Pap tests. In  2012, several medical groups including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists came out with new guidelines that recommend that most women be screened for cervical cancer no more than once every three to five years. A Pap test can detect abnormal cell changes that occur in the cervix
years before cervical cancer develops.

The guidelines also recommend women receive a test for the human papillomavirus (HPV) along with the Pap test for women ages 30 and older, every five years. There are many types of HPV, some of which can cause cervical cancer.

Among the new recommendations:

  • Because invasive cervical cancer is very rare in women younger than 21, these women should not be screened for cervical cancer or HPV.
  • Women ages 21 to 29 should undergo cervical cancer screening once every three years, instead of once every two years.
  • Women ages 30 to 60 should undergo cervical screening once every three years or can choose to have a combination of cervical screening and HPV testing every five years.
  • Screening for cervical cancer can be discontinued in women over age 65 with no history of cervical abnormalities or cervical cancer, and who have had three consecutive negative Pap tests, or two consecutive negative Pap and HPV test results within the past 10 years—if the most recent test was performed within the past five years.
  • Women may need more frequent screening if they have a history of cervical cancer, are HIV-positive, have a compromised immune system, or were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) in the womb.                       
Women should continue to have an annual well-woman exam, so they can discuss many other important health issues with their doctor. Teenagers and young women can benefit from counseling on a healthy diet, risky behaviors, family planning, and if they are sexually active, testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Women of reproductive ages can discuss family planning, while older women can discuss the transition to menopause, osteoporosis prevention and referral for mammograms and colorectal cancer screening.