Preventive health screenings are important for maintaining optimal health and long life. There is a long list of screening tests and exams that can detect diseases in an early stage when it is easiest to treat and often cure.
Examples of these are tests are for high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, glaucoma and cancer. For women, in particular, the 435th Medical Group screens for both breast cancer and cervical cancer.
Despite declining incidence, according to the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer remains the 10th leading cause of cancer deaths among North American women. The screening exam for cervical cancer is called the Papanicolaou Test or, more commonly, the “pap smear.”
Although the optimal age to begin screening is not yet known, evidence suggests that screening should begin three years after onset of sexual activity or at age 21 in sexually active females, whichever comes first.
Through extensive research, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force found no evidence that recurrent annual screenings achieved any better outcomes than screening every three years. Therefore, the USPSTF recommends that pap smears initially be performed annually until two consecutive tests are normal. After that time, the screening cycle may be lengthened up to three years. The 435th Medical Group is adopting the recommendations of the USPSTF.
What does this mean for women?
Women only need to have a pap screening done every three years if two or more normal pap smears in a row were normal. However, personal risk factors are always a consideration and medical professionals suggest women discuss their personal health care needs and concerns with a provider or nurse.
When can you safely stop having pap exams altogether?
The ACS recommends discontinuing screening, or offering the option for patients to discontinue screening, after age 65 to 70, provided there is documented evidence of normal past screenings. The risk of cervical cancer declines with age but the decision to stop these exams should be discussed with a health care provider.
(Courtesy of the 435th Medical Group)