New Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines

by Elena on April 19, 2012 in Cancer

Cervical Screening Guidelines | Ciao Mom

One month ago I had my uterus and cervix removed in large part because of my medical history. My medical history that already includes one malignancy.  My medical history that excludes me from the regular population of healthy 37 year old women. My history that has included more birthdays, year after year, as a survivor of Hodgkins Disease.

The interesting thing about the timing of my hysterectomy is that it came when the American Cancer Society (ACS) published it’s new guidelines for Cervical Cancer screening. Screening guidelines intended for the population of women that are not at risk for whatever reason. Screening guidelines that are meant to educate and inform women everywhere. Screening guidelines are different than guidelines for management of known health issues.

The new guidelines take into account research from various studies. The guidelines are intended to educate women and reduce the risk of complications that can arise from screening tests while still providing timely and efficient screening parameters.

The new guidelines for cervical cancer screening are:

Cervical cancer screening should beginning at age 21.

Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a PAP every THREE years.  HPV testing should not be used unless it is needed after an abnormal Pap test result.

Women between the age of 30 and 65 should have a PAP PLUS HPV test every FIVE years.
source: American Cancer Society

Reading the new guidelines the morning that I came out of surgery, admittedly made me wonder if I had done the right thing. But then I remembered. I am not part of the regular population. The guidelines are written for otherwise healthy women, and are intended to balance the need to screen and detect cancers early on with the potential harm that even small procedures may have on child bearing.

I had the opportunity to speak to Dr. Debbie Saslow, the Director, Breast and Gynecologic Cancer,  for the American Cancer Society who explained that women associate a pap test with their annual check up. But really, the importance of an annual check up is preventative and the association between the test and the check up need to be unlinked.  The results of a 2012 study looked at a comparison to cervical screening in the United States versus the Netherlands indicated that the United States screens more and yet, the mortality rates are the same.

The issue, Dr. Saslow pointed out, is that many women do not go for annual check ups. For reasons of finances, insurance, culture, and geography, screening tests have been suggested historically by doctors to keep women coming back into the doctor’s office.  Without the tests, organized health care systems worry that women may not come back. I can attest to this. Spending an afternoon in the emergency room to rule out a complication from my surgery a few weeks ago was eye opening.  Patient after patient came in, with colds, soar throats…issues that could be taken care of  by general practitioners. Unless of course, you don’t have one. Or don’t go often enough.

Clearly testing and screening is a good way to detect issues.  But with testing com the emotional ups and downs that are associated with waiting for the results, following up “abnormal” responses, and the potential for scarring that may result. Preventative health care IS important. In my personal case, I have always erred on the side of caution, screening and testing without a concern for the possible consequences.

But the truth is that more is not necessarily better. Unnecessary procedures happen every day. Which is why being educated about the guidelines is so important. Asking questions of our doctors is the best way that we can advocate for ourselves. Our health is OURS to manage.

Testing is not always the answer. The key is prevention and knowledge. My doctors tend to jump the gun with me, preferring to rule out anything and everything because of my history. I have a medical history that includes cancer. Not everyone does. Each of us is different and needs to make individual decisions based on our personal and familial factors. As the ACS says, “Take control of your health, and reduce your cancer risk.”

Did you know that you can support the campaign for More Birthdays with your Facebook cover photo? Visit the More Birthdays Facebook page to pick a photo and help spread the message of More Birthdays?

Ciao Mom



I am a member of the American Cancer Society Blogger Advisory Council. Cancer, More Birthdays, and Cancer Screenings are important to me.




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Mika Logan April 19, 2012 at 1:37 pm

This is pretty scary “Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a PAP every THREE years” since I have not tried doing it ever since and I’m already 24. Aren’t there any obvious symptoms to warn us about the possibility of cervical cancer without having to undergo the rigid tests? Thanks for the information here.


Jen at nonstopmama April 19, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Fantastic post, Elena, and very much enjoy your site as a mama blogger and writer on this side of the pond! Very much admire and am inspired by your grace, honesty and bravery in all that you’ve been through and I hope you are making a good (as possible!) recovery from your op. Our family has been very closely affected by cancer over the past year or so, and I have had gyny issues which, although thank God are not of this nature but a nuisance and still a work in progress for which a hysterectomy was am ultimate option not altogether out of the picture. Thank you for all you share and wishing you all the wonderful best XX

Joanne Bamberger aka PunditMom April 19, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Could not agree more with these guidelines, especially age at which they should start, I had a cervical cancer scare in my late 20s, which came out of the blue for me. But I’m not so happy with the recommendation of having so many years between each screening. I went every year and was fine one year and was diagnosed with a Stage II dysplasia the year after. If I had only gone every three years, who knows how far along it would have been by then.

Hhh April 21, 2012 at 12:03 am

Get tested could save your life remember symptoms don’t usually occur till
Advanced stages !!! Don’t mess around !!!

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