Overscreening: Many Primary Doctors Still Recommend Annual Cervical Screening

A study making headlines today finds that the majority of primary care providers continue to recommend annual cervical cancer screening, and only about one in seven would extend the screening interval when using the Pap test and human papillomavirus (HPV) test together, as guidelines from the American Cancer Society and other groups recommend. The study is published online in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

We asked Debbie Saslow, Ph.D., director of breast and cervical cancer, for her response to the study.

“Twenty five years ago, in 1987 (and again in 2002), the American Cancer Society and many other national organizations updated cervical cancer screening guidelines to say that women could get Pap tests every 2-3 years rather than annually. While many other cancers are fast-growing and require more frequent screening, cervical cancer progresses from HPV infection and precancerous cell changes over the course of 10 to 20 years. The addition of the HPV test for women ages 30 and over provides further reassurance and safety for longer screening intervals.

“Overscreening, either with the Pap test alone or with a combination of Pap and HPV tests, has been shown to lead to a high number of unnecessary follow-up tests and at times to more serious harms. This study confirms the extensive practice of overscreening in the U.S. and the continued need both to educate women about current screening recommendations and to address screening practices among providers.”

About David Sampson

I am the director of medical and scientific communications for the American Cancer Society national home office.
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