Less frequent Pap smears appear safe for low-risk women

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Reducing the frequency of Papanicolaou smears from annually to once every 3 years in low-risk women places only about three per 100,000 more women between the ages of 30 and 64 at risk of cervical cancer, according to a recently published study.

Researchers from California included over 31,000 racially, ethnically, and geographically diverse women who had three or more consecutive negative annual Pap tests. They calculated that avoidance of one additional case of cervical cancer by screening 100,000 women annually for 3 years rather than once in 3 years after the last negative test would require about 69,665 additional Pap smears and 3,861 colposcopies in women 30 to 44 years of age and about 209,324 additional Pap smears and 11,502 colposcopies in women 45 to 59 years of age.

The researchers encourage practitioners and their patients to consider the small increase in risk associated with less frequent screening in comparison to the costs and stress associated with more frequent screening.

Sawaya GF, McConnell KJ, Kulasingam SL, et al. Risk of cervical cancer associated with extending the interval between cervical cancer screenings. N Engl J Med. 2003;349:1501-1509.

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