For the second time in a week, a group of medical experts has recommended that some women can be tested less frequently for cancer.
A new guideline suggesting that less testing for cervical cancer makes more medical sense comes as a separate recommendation that women delay the start of routine mammograms until age 50 has become embroiled in the debate over health care reform.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists just recommended that young women can hold off until 21 before getting their first Pap smear and get them every two years through the rest of their 20s, instead of annually. Previously, the doctor group had said young women should get a Pap smear three years after first having sex or age 21, whichever came earlier.
The doctors also said that women 30 and older who have three consecutive normal pap smears can lengthen the testing interval to three years. Finally, the docs say it's OK to stop pap smears altogether after age 65 or 70 for women who've had three normal pap smears in a row and no abnormal results in a decade.
How is it that the Pap smear rollback came out just as mammography and fears about of rationing of care under changes to health care caught fire?
"It's just pure coincidence that these guidelines have been released now," Dr. David Soper, the Chairman of ACOG's Gynecology Practice Bulletin Committee, told NPR.
They new guideline has been in the works for years and reflects evolving scientific evidence that shows, for instance, the risks of cervical cancer developing in young women is quite low. Indeed, the vast majority of abnormalities found on Pap tests in very young women clear up on their own.
More broadly, Soper told NPR, "You don't improve cancer detection by doing annual smears in women in the different age groups. Performing the Pap test every other year in women between the ages of 21 and 29, and every three years in women over 30 is just as good as doing the test annually. "There's no danger in this new guidance," he said.