Health

Pap tests recommended every 3 years in U.S.

U.S. women are now being urged by health authorities to get Pap smears every three years rather than annually, an interval also recommended by Health Canada.

Health Canada recommends same screening interval

New guidelines released by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force strongly recommend women receive Pap tests — which screen for cervical cancer — less often. (Craig Lassig/College of American Pathologists/Associated Press)

U.S. women are now being urged by health authorities to get Pap smears every three years rather than annually.

New guidelines released by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and published in the Annals of Preventive Medicine Wednesday strongly recommend women receive the tests — which screen for cervical cancer — less often. Guidelines issued by the American Cancer Society also recommend less frequent screening.

The USPSTF had reviewed research concerning the optimal age as well as the benefits and drawbacks of different screening strategies. The new guidelines update its 2003 recommendations.

The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Healthcare is currently working on developing cervical cancer screening guidelines, according to its website. However, Health Canada recommends that women have their first Pap test at 18 or as soon as they become sexually active. A second test should be done after one year. "If your first two tests show no abnormality, you should be re-screened every three years to age 69," the health agency advises.

The USPSTF is also recommending that women under 30 not be screened for the human papillomavirus (HPV), as women in that age group have a high likelihood of clearing the virus from their body. HPV can infect cells on the vagina and cervix and lead to cervical cancer.

The task force recommends against screening women over 65 for cervical cancer if "they have had adequate prior screening and are not otherwise at high risk for cervical cancer."

U.S. women who have had a diagnosis of a high-grade precancerous cervical lesion or cervical cancer, in utero exposure to diethylstilbestrol (a synthetic non-steroidal estrogen), or are immunocompromised (such as those who are HIV positive), should have more frequent screening, according to the task force.