Doctors screen for cervical cancer more often than recommended

August 25, 2011

"Many doctors screen women for cervical cancer every year rather than waiting the recommended 3 years after a normal test result, a recent study finds. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, annual screening offers no real advantage over less-frequent tests. MORE "

Many doctors screen women for cervical cancer every year rather than waiting the recommended 3 years after a normal test result, a recent study finds. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, annual screening offers no real advantage over less-frequent tests.

Guidelines from the American Cancer Society and other organizations recommend screening women 30 years of age and older for cervical cancer using the HPV co-test-human papillomavirus (HPV) testing and the Papanicolaou smear. If both results are normal, the guidelines recommend a 3-year interval between co-tests. To assess how healthcare providers use the tests, researchers analyzed data from about 600 office-based doctors and hospital departments collected through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. They found that about 51% of providers ordered the HPV co-test but fewer than 15% recommend the next Pap test in 3 years for women with normal co-test results and a documented normal screening history.

“Overall, annual cervical cancer screening continues to be a common recommendation, regardless of whether a screening history has been established or an HPV test has been ordered,” the authors of the study conclude.

The researchers evaluated provider response to 3 scenarios involving a woman between 30 and 60 years of age: 2 consecutive normal Pap tests but no HPV tests; 2 normal Pap tests and a negative HPV test; and a negative HPV test but no recent Pap tests. Although guidelines recommend retesting in 3 years for all 3 situations, 67% to 85% of doctors said they would retest in a year in each scenario.

The study was published online June 12 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

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