While cervical cancer used to be a leading cause of death in women, the rates are dropping. In response, the screening guidelines have been changed. The American Cancer Society's updated screening guidelines recommend that regular cervical cancer screenings begin at 25 years old. Additionally, you should have a primary HPV test every 5 years from 25 to 65 years old. Previously, those screenings began at 21 years old, but the starting age has increased because of the low number of cervical cancer cases in the 20 to 24 age range due to the increase in vaccine use.
Since primary HPV testing isn't currently available to everyone, as laboratories are still transitioning to the new testing methods, "screening may be done with either a co-test that combines an HPV test with a Papanicolaou (Pap) test every 5 years or a Pap test alone every 3 years," says the ACS. While the old method is still an acceptable option, experts say the new guidelines and testing methods can help prevent even more cervical cancer cases, since HPV tests are even more accurate than Pap tests.
"We estimate that compared with the currently recommended strategy of cytology (Pap testing) alone beginning at age 21 and switching to co-testing at age 30 years, starting with primary HPV testing at age 25 prevented 13 percent more cervical cancers and 7 percent more cervical cancer deaths," said Debbie Saslow, PhD, managing director, HPV & GYN Cancers for the American Cancer Society, in a press release. "Our model showed we could do that with a 9 percent increase in follow-up procedures, but with 45 percent fewer tests required overall."
So book that appointment. It only takes up a small amount of your time—and it could save your life.
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