New Recommendation for Cervical Cancer Diagnostic Test Confuses Healthcare Providers

Published Date : Dec 15, 2015

As the third most common cancer among women, cervical cancer accounts for around 300,000 deaths annually. The deadly yet preventable disease is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths across the globe. Early detection of cervical cancer reduces the chances of death considerable. Diagnostic tests for cervical cancer include Pap smear tests, HPV testing, cone biopsy, endocervical curettage (ECC), colposcopy, and loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP). Among these tests, Pap smear tests are mostly preferred by physicians due to the high efficacy of the tests at relatively low costs. Though the test is an important screening tool for cervical cancer, it has been now recommended to start the test at later age and perform less frequently for most women.

In 2009 and 2012, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG) updated its recommendations regarding the frequency and starting age of the Pap smear tests. The latest recommendations have baffled the healthcare providers as the tests have been significant in reducing the prevalence of the disease in the United States. According to recent data released by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), cervical cancer is the 14th most common cancer diagnosed among American women. 

Infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) has been one of the key risk factors associated with cervical cancer. There are high chances of HPV infections among women in their early 20s. However, these infections rarely lead to cervical cancer. The transient nature of cervical cancer in younger women has led ACOG to recommend that women should start Pap testing by 21 years, irrespective of their age of first intercourse. Earlier, the ACOG had advised that Pap testing should begin three years after women become sexually active, or at 21 years, whichever comes first.