24-year-old Avery Miller gets screened for cervical cancer every year. "I started seeing a gynecologist when I was 18 and I've had a yearly pap ever since then."
Under new guidelines from the "U.S. Preventive Services Task Force" healthy women like Miller will be screened less often. The task force says women ages 21 to 65 only need to have a pap test every three years. "It is as effective in reducing cancer deaths as annual screening, but we have substantially less false positive tests," says Dr. Wanda Nicholson.
Doctors say over screening is leading to unnecessary procedures that can increase pregnancy complications.
The task force also says low risk women 30 and over can be tested every five years - if they get an HPV test at the same time. HPV or the Human Pappilloma Virus is the main cause of cervical cancer. But many gynecologists think that's too long to wait. "To blanketly say in these low-risk patients five years is appropriate might be a stretch too far," says Dr. Sharyn Lewin of NY Presbyterian-Columbia.
Doctors say the new recommendations for less screening do not mean women should skip their regular, annual checkups. "There are many facets to that visit. Many discussions depending on age regarding things like contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, breast health, bone health, hypertension, diabetes."
Miller plans to get tested as often as her doctor recommends. "If she really believes that this is ok for me and what's best and that I will be safe screening every three years then I would go with that."
And she will still see her doctor every year for a checkup.
The American Cancer Society and other health groups released similar recommendations today.