Advice from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and Dr Cheryl B. Iglesia have recommended that there is more potential for harm from the overuse of Pap tests. The reason is that young women are especially prone to develop abnormalities in the cervix that appear to be precancerous, but that will go away if left alone. But when Pap tests find the growths, doctors often remove them, with procedures that can injure the cervix and lead to problems later when a woman becomes pregnant, including premature birth and an increased risk of needing a Caesarean.
The doctors’ group also felt it was safe to test women less often because cervical cancer grows slowly, so there is time to catch precancerous growths. Cervical cancer is caused by a sexually transmitted virus, human papillomavirus, or HPV, that is practically ubiquitous. Only some people who are exposed to it develop cancer; in most, the immune system fights off the virus. If cancer does develop, it can take 10 to 20 years after exposure to the virus.
The new guidelines say women 30 and older who have three consecutive Pap tests that were normal, and who have no history of seriously abnormal findings, can stretch the interval between screenings to three years.
In addition, women who have a total hysterectomy (which removes the uterus and cervix) for a noncancerous condition, and who had no severe abnormalities on previous Pap tests, can quit having the tests entirely.
The guidelines also say that women can stop having Pap tests between 65 and 70 if they have three or more negative tests in a row and no abnormal test results in the last 10 years.
The changes do not apply to women with certain health problems that could make them more prone to aggressive cervical cancer, including H.I.V. infection or having an organ transplant or other condition that would lead to a suppressed immune system.
It is by no means clear that doctors or patients will follow the new guidelines. Medical groups, including the American Cancer Society, have been suggesting for years that women with repeated normal Pap tests could begin to have the test less frequently, but many have gone on to have them year after year anyway.
Debbie Saslow, director of breast and gynecologic cancer for the American Cancer Society, said professional groups were particularly concerned because many teenagers and young women were being tested and then needlessly subjected to invasive procedures.
The above is taken from the New York Times, November 20, 2009. However, as with all health conditions, prevention is by far the best and safest approach.
- Safe sex habits can prevent any transmission of HPV
- A strong immune system will be able to fight off any infection
- Good nutritional levels, particularly folate and B12 may prevent development of abnormal cells
- Do not self-prescribe or self-medicate
- See a qualified natural health practitioner