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Most deaths from cancer of the cervix (the lower part of the uterus, or womb) can be avoided by having regular gynecological checkups and Pap smears. This is a slow-growing cancer that can take several years to develop. Most often, cancerous cells are seen in women 40 years of age or older. Routine screening can help identify cervical cancer early on, at a time when it is highly curable. Screening can also find precancerous lesions that can be monitored or removed before cancer ever starts to develop.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) currently suggest that young women under the age of 21 years do not need to see a gynecologist unless there is a medical need. They recommend the following:
- Pap smears for women younger than 21 are not recommended because the incidence of cancer in this age group is rare. results may occur due to normal cell changes and are somewhat common. The false positive results may generate unnecessary and costly treatment as well as emotional anxiety.
The American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force offer similar recommendations.
Experts say that the following situations increase a teen girl's risk for future cervical problems, including cervical cancer:
Under these conditions, the cells of the cervix are more likely to undergo changes in ways that may lead to cancer or future fertility problems. While a Pap smear may not be required, appropriate testing for STDs and counseling regarding safe sex and contraception should be encouraged.
Screening for the presence of human papilloma virus (HPV DNA test) is not recommended for women younger than age 30 because infections with HPV are relatively common in this age group and often resolve without treatment or complications.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "Tool kit for teen care: pap tests" available at http://www.medem.com.
To sign up for a personal Pap test scheduling reminder, click here.
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