Are the New Pap Smear Guidelines for Black Women?
Annual Pap smears no longer needed
For generations, yearly Pap smear exams have been a medical ritual for women. First introduced in 1941, Pap smears reduced deaths from cervical cancer, which was once the No. 1 cancer killer among women, by about 70 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.
While Pap smears remain an essential part of cervical cancer prevention, 2 leading medical groups are recommending that women no longer go for yearly Pap smear tests. Instead, women can wait as long as 5 years depending on age and test-result history.
The new guidelines suggest:
*Women who are 21 to 29 years old only need a Pap smear every 3 years if they’ve had normal Pap smear results.
*Women ages 30 to 65 can prolong screening to every 5 years if they get what’s called "co-testing" with the Pap smear and HPV (human papiloma virus) test, which will add an increased level of detection of cervical cancer.
*Women under the age of 21 are not required to get pap smears at all, even if they are sexually active.
*Women under 30 should not be screened for HPV because brief infections are so common, they would give too many false alarms.
*The new guidelines also recommend no more screening for women over 65 unless they have certain risk factors.
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The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and medical groups led by the American Cancer Society say eliminating yearly Pap smear examinations will benefit women more. They’ve found that annual testing brought on false-positives Pap smear tests, unnecessary biopsies—which bring a risk of infection, pregnancy complications and infertility—and, of course, unnecessary stress combined with costly doctor visits.
However, in my opinion, the new guidelines do not represent the best interest of every women, especially Black women, who are 40-percent more likely to develop cervical cancer and twice as likely to die from it than white women.
And new research has found that it’s not just a matter of access to screening and follow-up care; Black women also have more trouble clearing HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer.
Researchers at the University of South Carolina in Columbia recently found that young Black women were 1.5 times more likely to test positive for infection with one of the HPV strains that raise cancer risk.
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As someone who has had HPV (the human papilloma virus) and 2 abnormal Pap smears in the span of 4 years, yes, the process is stressful, emotional, and all of the above, but the experience has made me more aware of my body and cervical cancer prevention.
I fear that by stretching the amount of years between check-ups, women will become complacent in their follow-up routines. It’s already a concern among black women that we are not going for annual screenings. One year turns into 3 years which then turns into 5 years. Next thing you know, it’s been almost a decade since you’ve went for a Pap smear exam.
More than 11,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S. and about 4,000 women die from the disease, largely because they didn't get screened and their cancers were caught too late.
It’s critical for doctors to differentiate who can, and cannot, wait three to five years for cervical cancer detection.
One doctor summed up my argument perfectly:
“With all these different recommendations, we run the risk of having people to start missing their Paps and make it seem like they’re not important enough,” Dr. Jacques Moritz, director of gynecology at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt in New York City told ABCNews.com.
But he did add that even if you don’t get the actual swabbing of the cervix every year, “You still need your annual exam. That means, you need your breast and pelvic exam," he said.
What do you think? Would you adopt the new guidelines?