Despite the fact that women are aware of the benefits of undergoing Pap tests, the updated screening guidelines about the proper frequency to have them are unknown to most women. Those are the conclusions of a recent study conducted at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The examination is an important screening test that diagnoses cervical cancer in early stages and is useful even in low-risk women.
The study was conducted after the revision of the guidelines on the frequency to receive screenings, with almost half of the women included in the study noting they would continue to undergo Pap tests on an annual basis, despite the new recommendations. The findings were presented during the 2015 American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Annual Clinical and Scientific Meeting in San Francisco.
“Our population was very knowledgeable about the purpose of Pap test screening and the cause of cervical cancer,” explained the lead author of the study Katherine O’Flynn O’Brien, MD, an Obstetrics and Gynecology resident at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, in a press release. “Unfortunately, most women were unaware of the appropriate frequency for Pap tests and many felt uncomfortable with the increased screening intervals recommended by the new guidelines.”
The American Cancer Society, the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, and the American Society for Clinical Pathology have recently released (March 2012) reviewed screening guidelines, which were later endorsed by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The guidelines resulted from work done by the organizations and recommended the first Pap test to be conducted at 21 years old, or three years after becoming sexually active.
The updated information is based on the belief that retarding the test will make adolescents more probable of clearing the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) by their own, removing the possibility of persistent cervical cell abnormalities. The guidelines also recommend that low-risk women, which include patients between 21 and 29 years old, should receive the examination every three years, and after that every five years with the Pap and HPV co-testing, or every three years with a Pap test alone.
The study was comprised of an anonymous questionnaire, in which 249 patients older than 18 answered 13 questions on familiarity with the revised guidelines, cervical cancer and screening frequency. Over 90% of the respondents were able to identify the Pap test as a screening test for cervical cancer, while 85% knew that HPV is a cause for cervical cancer. In addition, 15% between the ages of 21 and 29 selected the proper screening intervals, but the percentage decreased to six in patients older than 30.
“Our study highlighted a large opportunity for improvement as the majority of our patients noted that further education about the new guidelines would improve their comfort with the changes in screening. We have a responsibility to empower our patients with the information they need to make informed decisions about their screening choices and to reduce their morbidity from receiving unnecessary testing which can lead to further procedures due to false positive results,” added Katherine O’Flynn O’Brien.