Doctor Sandra Hall has been busy fielding calls from patients concerned about new pap smear and mammogram recommendations. Last week, a government task force said women should not start getting mammograms at age forty – instead, they should wait until they turn fifty.
“They said from age 40 to 49 that benefit was small, they would have to screen 1,900 women to save one woman’s life compared to age 50 to 59 where you’d have to screen about 1,300 women. They’re not saying there isn’t a benefit; they’re saying it’s small,” explained Dr. Sandra Hall.
While that was sinking in, women under thirty were then told annual pap smears were no longer needed. They were told that an exam every two years would be enough to catch slow-growing cervical cancer.
Dr. Hall said, “It can take ten, sometimes 20 years to grow. We know a lot more about cervical cancer these days, about the HPV virus that causes cervical cancer, and it isn’t women being screened dying from cervical cancer, it’s women who aren’t being screened.”
Still, Doctor Hall said it is important to remember this task force is made up of people who aren’t oncologists, treating cancer on a regular basis. These recommendations do not apply to everyone, especially if you have ever had an abnormal pap smear or a history of cancer in your family.
“I think the most important thing is to talk to your doctor. Your individual risk is so important and these are general recommendations, they’re not mandates,” added Dr. Hall.
So even though it is now recommended that women under thirty, who have never had an abnormal pap smear, wait two years between tests, Doctor Hall said you still need a pelvic exam every year.