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Pap test recommendations change

For most women, having a pap test has been part of a yearly routine, but new guidelines from the United States Preventive Services Task Force now recommend that women be tested for cervical cancer either every three years or every five years, depending on the screening test performed.

"Recent studies have shown that this new schedule is highly effective at detecting cervical cancer early, while at the same time reducing the number of false positive tests and decreasing the burden on the patient," said Dr. Henry Anderson, Wisconsin health officer.

While women should start getting regular pap tests at age 21, the new guidelines state that if that test is negative, and a woman is not in a high-risk group, she need not be retested for three years. High-risk groups include women infected with HIV or who have some other condition that weakens their immune system, women exposed to diethylstilbestrol before birth, and women who have previously been diagnosed with cervical cancer or who have had certain findings on previous Pap tests.

Another screening that can be used with the Pap test to determine a woman's risk for cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus test. Infection with HPV has been shown to be the first step toward developing cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is highly preventable because it usually takes a number of years for abnormal cells to progress into cervical cancers. Most women diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States have either never had a pap test, or have not had a pap test in the last five years, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health.