February 8, 2013
Jennifer Miller, 608-266-1683

Updated Guidelines Available for Cervical Cancer Screenings

Women at Low Risk May Not Need Yearly Test; February is National Cancer Prevention Month

MADISON-For most women, having a Pap test has been part of a yearly routine, but new guidelines from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) now recommend that women be tested for cervical cancer either every three years or every five years, depending on the screening test performed.

"While women may be used to a more frequent schedule of Pap tests, recent studies have shown that this new schedule is highly effective at detecting cervical cancer early, while at the same time reducing the number of false positive tests and decreasing the burden on the patient," said Dr. Henry Anderson, State Health Officer. "Women who have not been screened are encouraged to talk with their health care provider about the cervical cancer screening schedule that is right for them."

Wisconsin health officials encourage women to know their risks for cervical cancer and to get screened as appropriate. While women should start getting regular Pap tests at age 21, the new guidelines state that if that test is negative, and a woman is not in a high-risk group, she need not be retested for three years. High-risk groups include women infected with HIV or who have some other condition that weakens their immune system, women exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth, and women who have previously been diagnosed with cervical cancer or who have had certain findings on previous Pap tests.

Another test that can be used together with the Pap test to determine a woman's risk for cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV) test. Infection with HPV has been shown to be the first step toward developing cervical cancer. The HPV test is generally reserved for women aged 30 and older. The USPSTF now says that if a Pap test and the test for HPV are done at the same time, and both are negative, then a woman doesn't have to be retested for five years.

Cervical cancer is highly preventable because it usually takes a number of years for abnormal cells to progress into cervical cancers. Most women diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States have either never had a Pap test, or have not had a Pap test in the last five years.

The Wisconsin Well Woman Program (WWWP) provides cervical cancer screening to low-income uninsured women aged 45-64. View more information and learn how to receive access the program in your area.