Here are some old and new reasons why women should continue to have annual Pap tests:
1. It’s a simple and inexpensive test that saves lives in detecting early stage cancer.
2. Pap tests also help detect other, noncervical, types of reproductive cancers.
3. Once a year is easy to remember.
4. When reports say that testing can lead to false positives and surgery, don’t be fooled; a false positive does not immediately lead to surgery. The next step after a positive result is usually a simple re-test to rule out a false positive.
5. The recommendation that “healthy women” should get these tests only once every three years does not account for women who may not know all their risks, including DES exposure — which, interestingly, is mentioned elsewhere in the same issue of the Journal as it relates to other cancers.
1. The new vaccination against cervical cancer, wonderful as it is, does not protect against all types of cervical cancer. Listen carefully to marketing language for the vaccination when it mentions that you will be safe from “almost” all cervical cancers.
2. Medical statistics are not very comforting when you are within the 10 percent of cervical cancers not covered by the vaccination, or someone who had risks they were unaware of and who let too much time go by between tests. A 10 percent cancer risk for all women suddenly becomes 100 percent when you’re the person with the illness.
Women should definitely get vaccinated, but resist the hype. The new vaccinations do not make you invincible. Make sure that your insurance covers annual Pap tests, and that your doctor supports you in staying on schedule once a year.