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On November 20, 2009, The American College of Obstetricians and
Gynecologists (ACOG) released new guidelines saying women do not need
their first cervical cancer screening, or Pap test, until they're 21
years old. ACOG also recommended less frequent follow-up examinations.
According to the guidelines, women younger than 30 should be screened
every two years, instead of annually. Women 30 or older can be examined
once every three years.
"The tradition of doing a Pap test every year has not been supported
by recent scientific evidence," said Dr. Alan G. Waxman, who developed
the document for ACOG's Committee on Practice Bulletins-Gynecology.
"A review of the evidence to date shows that screening at less
frequent intervals prevents cervical cancer just as well, has decreased
costs, and avoids unnecessary interventions that could be harmful."
Sarah Feldman, MD,
a cervical cancer expert at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and at partner
hospital Brigham and Women's Hospital, says, "These are great
guidelines, quite frankly. For the vast majority of patients … (it) is a
very safe recommendation." But she advises, "If you have any questions
about them, however, this is an important conversation to have with your
According to the American Cancer Society, there are about 10,000 new
cases of cervical cancer each year, and more than 4,000 deaths.