Later start for Pap tests recommended in new screening guidelines

New cervical cancer screening guidelines on P.E.I. recommend a later start and less frequent screening.

P.E.I. 4th province to adopt new guidelines

The changes are meant to reduce further unnecessary testing, says Dr. Krista Cassell. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

New cervical cancer screening guidelines on P.E.I. recommend a later start and less frequent screening.

The guidelines raise the age women should start getting Pap tests from 21 to 25, and decrease the frequency from every two years to every three years.

Dr. Krista Cassell, co-chair of P.E.I.'s cervical screening committee, said Pap tests for women in their early 20s will often show abnormalities that will not develop into an illness. A positive Pap test can then lead to further unnecessary tests.

"That can be a very scary time for women, who may or may not understand what the abnormality truly means," said Cassell.

"It means more testing, it means more examinations, sometimes more invasive procedures like biopsies."

Changes recommended in 2013

P.E.I. follows B.C., Alberta and Nova Scotia in adopting these guidelines.

Researchers had been suggesting the changes are appropriate since 2013.

"We were very worried that we might not, at that time, have had enough things in place to make that a safe change. So we erred on the side of testing a little more frequently," said Cassell.

"We were concerned that perhaps a woman might not have a practitioner to go to get her Pap smear, perhaps there'd be delays there. There was perhaps not a good way to identify women who were due for their next Pap test."

Procedures have since been put in place to keep track of screening, she said.

Cassell said the province is investigating further changes for cervical cancer screening, which will test directly for high-risk variants of HPV, rather than the abnormalities they cause in cells from the cervix.

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