January is National Cervical Health Awareness Month. The staff of D-M’s 355th Medical Group Women’s Health Clinic would like to highlight some of the changes in the guidelines for cervical cancer screening.
Many women will be glad to know they will no longer need a Pap smear every year. Pap smears now begin at age 21 and are recommended every three years. Women 30-and-older are eligible for screening every five years, if they have a negative Pap smear and Human Papilloma Virus test.
Recent research has determined almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV. A routine DNA test can detect the high-risk strains of HPV in women 30-years-and older. Cervical cancer develops very slowly over time and in the absence of HPV, women are not at risk. A vaccine for HPV is now available at the Immunizations Clinic for women between ages the ages of 9 and 26. The vaccine is a series of three shots given over a period of six months.
A small population of women can discontinue getting Pap smears. Those who have had a total hysterectomy for non-cancerous reasons and women over 65, with recent normal Pap smears, do not need the exam.
Despite the fact that many women may not need Pap smears as frequently, the WHC will not turn women away who have other gynecology-related questions or concerns. Patients using birth control must be seen on an annual basis to ensure they are still eligible to continue the method and renew their prescriptions.
The WHC manages women who have abnormal Pap smears, pre-cancerous cellular changes or “dysplasia” of the cervix, with their Abnormal Pap Program. These patients are monitored closely and receive routine surveillance at frequent intervals. In the majority of cases, the abnormalities will resolve on their own. However, some women are referred to a civilian Gynecologist for consultation and definitive treatment.
The WHC staff is available to answer questions about the new cervical cancer screening guidelines. Please call the central appointment line at 228-2778 to schedule an appointment.