Women concerned over new health recommendations

November 20, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Another new recommendation to cut back cancer screenings has women wondering what's going on. First, it was mammograms and now it's Pap smears, which test for cervical cancer. There's some confusion and even anger about these new guidelines.

The doctors behind these new Pap smear guidelines say less testing is better because the screening has become more sophisticated and because cancer cells in the cervix grow slowly.

These recommendations may have been easier to digest if women hadn't already been hit with the new changing guidelines for mammograms.

For years, women have been told an annual Pap smear helps protect against cervical cancer. It's no wonder many are now suspicious about the new recommendations.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women get their first cervical cancer screening at age 21 instead of 18, that women 30 and younger get tested every other year and as long as they've had three normal years in a row, women over 30 only need a Pap smear every three years.

These new guidelines come the same week as controversial recommendations for later and less frequent mammograms.

Dr. Mary Imig has been an OB/GYN for 19 years. She supports less frequent testing for cervical cancer while admitting the timing isn't ideal.

"I think it is unfortunat, but it's really important for folks to understand that these changes have been evolving over the course of many years," she said.

Dr. Imig says more advanced testing means fewer false positive test results and unnecessary procedures especially for young women.

Hank Greely is a leading Stanford University expert on the legal, ethical and social issues surrounding health law. He doesn't think money is behind the changes and says patients shouldn't expect annual screenings if they aren't warranted.

"People aren't entitled to any medical care they want. If I decide I want my appendix out because it worries me, and I don't have the symptoms of appendicitis, no surgeon is going to take my appendix out," said Greely.

Many women say it's just curious that two major preventive care guidelines are changed as the health care debate in Washington focuses on costs and coverage.

"Well, I know the studies were done separately, but still two in one week, it's a little difficult to absorb," said Cheryl Cashman from Los Gatos.

Dr. Imig and other OB/GYNs are a little worried that some women will take new guidelines to mean that they don't need an annual exam. That is definitely not the case.

An annual physical exam is recommended and that includes a pelvic exam, just perhaps not a Pap smear.


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