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ACOG Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines Agree with ACS, Task Force

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November 15, 2012

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has published new guidelines for screening women for cervical cancer, and they align with guidelines from several other organizations published earlier this year, including the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force (USPSTF). Specifically, ACOG now recommends the following:

  • Screening with a Pap smear for women ages 21 to 29 every 3 years
  • Screening with a Pap smear and HPV DNA test for women ages 30 to 65 every 5 years (preferable), or every 3 years with Pap smear alone (also acceptable)

More frequent screening is recommended for women with risk factors, such as exposure to DES (diethylstilbestrol) in utero, previous diagnosis of cervical cancer, HIV infection, or a compromised immune system.

Pap smears for women younger than 21 are not recommended because the incidence of cancer in this age group is very low. ACOG as well as ACS and USPSTF also recommend against screening for cervical cancer for women over the age of 65 who have had negative results on adequate prior screening. Guidelines define adequate prior screening as 3 consecutive negative Pap smears or 2 consecutive negative HPV tests in the prior 10 years, with the most recent within 5 years.

With the recent changes to cervical cancer screening guidelines, patients and providers will need to change their thinking about the Pap smear, which for a long time had been recommended as an annual test. ACOG emphasizes, however, that yearly well-woman exams are still a very important part of women's health care and should be continued.

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NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used. To access online sources, copy and paste the URL into your browser.

Reuters. Wait longer between Pap tests, doctors say. October 22, 2012. Available online at through Accessed November 2012.

ACOG. Ob-Gyns Recommend Women Wait 3 to 5 Years Between Pap Tests. October 22, 2012. Available online at through Accessed November 2012.