My doctor told me I don't need a Pap smear as often. Is it really safe to go a few years without one?
The good news is that cervical cancer screening recommendations are changing because of progress in combating the disease. As we've developed a better understanding of the role of the human papillomavirus in cervical cancer, the Pap test has evolved. We can now test not only for abnormal cells that develop in response to HPV infection but also for the virus that causes the disease. The ongoing development of vaccines against HPV means that future generations are less likely to develop HPV-related diseases, and we need to adjust screening recommendations to reflect lower risk. We also recognize that the disease develops slowly, so low-risk women don't need a Pap test every year; testing every two to three years is sufficient.
The current guidelines recommend that we reduce the intensity of cervical cancer screening for lower-risk women and focus more intensive screening on women at higher risk. Women below the age of 21, women who have had three sequential normal Pap smears, and women who have had a hysterectomy are all considered low risk and don't benefit from intensive screening. It is important to recognize that most women who die from cervical cancer have never had cervical cancer screening or have not been screened for at least five years.
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