Pap Smear

How frequently should a woman have Pap smear?

The current recommendation is that all women from the age of 18 until age 69 should have a Pap smear every year. Regular Pap smear can prevent cervical cancer.

Unfortunately, 50 percent of Alberta women who develop cancer of the cervix have never had a pap smear or haven’t had smears as often as recommended, says Health Report for Albertans 2003.

This is really unfortunate. In 2002, it was estimated that 1400 Canadian women would develop cancer of the cervix and 410 would die from it, says the Health Report. Many of these lives could have been saved with yearly Pap smears.

In 1999, over 150 cases of invasive cervical cancer were recorded in Alberta, says a document produced by Alberta Cancer Board. In addition, approximately 1500 cases of cervical carcinoma in-situ (lesions that have not spread beyond the surface of the cervix) were recorded.

In the Palliser Health Region, from1996 to 2000, 19 cases of invasive cervical cancers were diagnosed (about four cases a year).

Cervical cancer used to be one of the most common and lethal cancers in women. Over the past 60 years, thanks to Pap smear, the death rate from cervical cancer has decreased dramatically.

Now some researchers are questioning the yearly screening programs.

“How often should we screen for cervical cancer?” is the title of an article in an October issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recently revised their guidelines for screening for cervical cancer because there have been reports that cost-benefit analyses of lifelong annual screening may not result in substantially better outcomes than less frequent screening and is much more costly.

ACS now recommends interval between screenings ranging from one to three years, depending on several factors, such as age, screening history, type of Pap smear, and history of patient’s immunity.

The NEJM article says that the risk of lengthening the interval for screening is that many women will forget to comply with screening recommendation.

So, it is important that every woman should remember to have a Pap smear every year unless your physician advises you otherwise.

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