TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Less than a week after a government panel handed down new mammography guidelines, experts say early cervical cancer screenings may do more harm than good, particularly in young women.
Mammograms and pap smears. Two down, how many more can there be to go?
"Oh, it's a rock and a hard place," said Dr. Ralph Turner, a gynecologist with the University of Texas Health Science Center.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now say women should hold off on getting pap smears until age 21. ACOG recommends that women between the ages of 20 and 30 get the pap test every other year. Women over 30 who have had three normal pap tests in a row can go every three years without one. Pap tests help catch pre-cancerous changes in the cervix before more dangerous cancer can develop. But the ACOG says early screenings could lead to unnecessary treatments for the disease and interfere with future fertility.
Turner says HPV normally goes away on it's own in young women.
"It's just like her picking up a cold in the fourth grade...expose the virus, comes through, she gets over it," he explained.
Dr. Turner says doctors have probably over-treated in the past, but the risks never completely, go away.
"The opposite side of that, is the obstetrician, gynecologist who doesn't want to get sued when this thing turns into real cancer," said Turner.
By mere coincidence the new pap test guidelines come just days after a government panel announced new guidelines for breast cancer screenings. Dr. Turner says it's something every woman should be concerned with as the health care debate heats up.
"Health care for populations is a whole lot different than medical care for people," he said. "Do your own reading, be comfortable with your decisions, ask questions...and then use your best judgement."
It turns out the American Cancer Society supports the pap smear changes. They are updating their own recommendations for release in 2011.