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Health Center Today, January 22, 2010

A Womanís Health Controversy

By Chris Kaminski

Photo of three womenAn annual mammogram and Pap smear have become part of a womanís healthcare routine. Recently, the guidelines for both have changed causing much controversy and have opened the door to many unanswered questions.

Last November, a U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USBSTF) recommended changes to its breast cancer screening guidelines. On the heels of the USBSTF recommendations, a new report was released from the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists (ACOG) issuing new guidelines for cervical screening.

What are the new guidelines?

The new breast cancer screening recommendations issued by the USBSTF are:

  • Routine screening of average-risk women should begin at age 50, instead of age 40.
  • Routine screening should end at age 74.
  • Women should get screening mammograms every two years instead of every year.
  • Breast self-exams have little value, based on findings from several large studies.

The new cervical screening recommendations issued by ACOG are:

  • Cervical cancer screening should begin at age 21 years (regardless of sexual history). Screening before age 21 should be avoided because women less than 21 years old are at very low risk of cancer. Screening these women may lead to unnecessary and harmful evaluation and treatment.
  • Pap smear screening is recommended every two years for women between the ages of 21 years and 29 years. Evidence shows that screening women every year has little benefit over screening every other year.
  • Women age 30 and older who have had three consecutive negative Pap smear results may be screened once every three years with either the Pap or liquid-based cytology.

The new recommendations are controversial and have not been embraced by many healthcare professionals. They have raised many questions that have not been answered. If a woman younger than 50 or older than 74 wants to get a screening mammogram, can she? Should a woman really wait until the age of 21 to have her first Pap? Will insurance carriers cover breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings if they are performed outside of the new recommendations?

The answers to these questions and many more will be addressed at a Discovery Series program on Thursday, February 25, at 7 p.m. in the Keller Auditorium. Womenís health experts Dr. Carolyn Runowicz and Dr. Ursula Steadman will discuss the changes in the guidelines and explore how they can affect a womanís health. Both speakers will allow ample time to answer questions from the audience.

Discovery Series programs are free and open to the public. Registration is required. Register online at or call 800-535-6232.