A new study, published early online in Annals of Internal Medicine, states that according to new guidelines set forth by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), women ages 21 to 65 should be getting Pap smears at least every three years, and women who are between 30 and 65 can go as long as 5 years, if they receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) test when they go for their Pap smears.

The USPSTF says that screening for cervical cancer in women under the age of 21 is not recommended, because no matter what their sexual history is, there is really no way to reduce the risk of cervical cancer or death from the cancer. Women over the age of 65 who are not at risk and have had the recommended screening previous in their lives do not need screening.

Virginia Moyer, MD, MPH, Professor of Pediatrics at Baylor Medical College says:

“This is good news for women because evidence shows that an annual Pap smear is not necessary to prevent deaths from cervical cancer. Screening every three years starting at age 21 save the same number of lives as annual screening, but with half the number of colposcopies and fewer false-positive tests.”

In October 2011, a draft recommendation was released by the USPSTF. Since then, new evidence came to light regarding HPV testing in cervical cancer screening. The USPSTF looked at the new evidence and decided that women between 30 and 65 should be getting HPV screening and Pap smears in coordination. When they do receive them together, they can then get the screening once every 5 years, instead of every 3. The Force says that HPV screening is not recommended in women under 30, mainly because the infection often goes away on its own, and is normally found in younger women.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that there is a low chance of cervical cancer developing in women 30 and older who have normal Pap results. This proves the notion that Paps are not necessary every three years, however, women should not neglect their regular doctor appointments.

Patients who have had a hysterectomy with their cervix removed and do not have a history of cervical cancer do not need to be screened, says the Task Force. Also, those who are older than 65 do not need to continue to get screened if their last 3 Paps were negative, or if 2 Paps in a row had negative co-tests, within 20 years before screening cessation, when the last test was within at least 5 years.

Written By Christine Kearney