- Most women in their 20s can have a Pap smear every two years instead of annually, say new guidelines that conclude that's enough to catch slow-growing cervical cancer.
The guidelines also say:
- Routine Paps should start at age 21. Previously, ACOG had urged a first Pap either within three years of first sexual intercourse or at age 21.
- Women 30 and older should wait three years between Paps once they've had three consecutive clear tests. Other national guidelines have long recommended the three-year interval; ACOG had previously backed a two- to three-year wait.
- Women with previous cervical abnormalities or immune-weakening conditions (such as HIV) may need more frequent screening.
Cervical cancer is caused by certain strains of the extremely common sexually transmitted virus called HPV, for human papillomavirus. There is a new HPV vaccine that should cut cervical cancer in the future; ACOG's guidelines say for now that vaccinated women should follow the same Pap guidelines as the unvaccinated.
But the updated guidelines reflect better understanding of HPV. Women's bodies very often fight off an HPV infection on their own without lasting harm.