8 Million Women Haven’t Had a Pap Smear in 5 Years

Not to get too personal, but when was the last time you had a Pap smear? Be honest.

As many as eight million adult women in the U.S. haven’t been screened for cervical cancer in five years, according to a report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Avoiding the gyno truly means putting their health on the line: More than 50 percent of new cervical cancer cases are in women who haven’t had a Pap smears in five years.

While the guidelines about how often to get Pap smears changed in 2012 (the new recommendation is less frequent screenings — such as every three years — for most women ages 21 to 65), that doesn’t mean women can skip them all together.

A Pap smear is an important health test used to check cervical cells for abnormalities, which can signal cancerous growth (addtionally, an HPV test screens for the human papillomavirus that causes these cell changes). Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV infections, and a mere two types of HPV, 16 and 18, are responsible for about 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases, according to the National Cancer Institute. (Fortunately, a new HPV vaccine protects against more strains.)

In most cases, infected cells are spotted by the immune system and eliminated. But if they’re not, they continue to grow and can ultimately form a tumor. Pap smears detect these abnormal changes early on when the condition is more treatable. In fact, up to 93 percent of cervical cancers could be prevented by screening and the HPV vaccine, according to the CDC.

The CDC also found that seven out of 10 women who haven’t been screened for cervical cancer in the past five years have a regular doctor and health insurance coverage — i.e., they do have access to medical coverage — so it’s unclear why they haven’t gone in for testing. What’s more, the 2010 Affordable Care Act requires that health insurance providers offer all cancer screenings for free so there’s no charge to the patient. Ultimately, it’s up to women — and their physicians — to remind themselves to get checked as needed and not let this important test fall by the wayside.

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  • Eliz52

    It’s incredible that pap testing is always presented as a MUST or SHOULD, when in fact, the law and proper ethical standards say it’s a option, nothing more, and informed consent is the only MUST..
    All cancer screening has risks and hopefully, benefits some people, only one person can say the risks with screening are worth the benefit – the individual
    I rejected cervical screening, I didn’t like the statistics, 0.65% is the lifetime risk of cervical cancer, it’s fairly rare and it was in natural decline before screening even started.
    But 77% is the lifetime risk of colposcopy and biopsy under the Australian program, and lots end up being over-treated. As a low risk woman, I was content with my near zero risk of cc.

    Now I understand HPV- women aged 30 to 60 are not at risk of cc and cannot benefit from pap testing. The Dutch and Finns have evidence based screening – sadly, vested interests have too much say with these programs in many countries and that’s when you see women under 30 having pap testing and all women being seriously over-screened resulting in high excess biopsy and over-treatment rates.
    The Dutch offer 5 HPV primary tests or HPV self testing at ages 30,35,40,50 and 60 and a 5 yearly pap test is only offered to the roughly 5% who test HPV+
    This will save more lives and also, takes most women out of pap testing and harms way. (and saves scarce health resources)
    Since the 1960s these countries offered no more than 7 pap tests, 5 yearly from 30 to 60, they achieved the same or even better results than the over-screening countries and without the horrible levels of excess biopsy/over-treatment. Australia “treats” more than 10 times the number of women than a country like Finland, almost all of this damage is avoidable.

    It’s about time consent and informed consent became the focus in women’s cancer screening, not coverage/numbers, targets and profits. We’re entitled (like men) to make an informed decision to accept or decline screening as we see fit.
    I’ve also declined breast screening, head over to the Nordic Cochrane Institute and read their excellent summary of the risks and actual benefits. The NCI are an independent, not for profit, medical research group. Over-diagnosis and over-treatment is a serious risk, I believe the risks with screening exceeds any benefit. Do your reading and make up your own mind.

    Note that routine pelvic and breast exams are not recommended at any age, they’re far more likely to harm you
    It’s also about time the Pill came off script, it’s been proven safe over decades yet women are still forced to see a doctor and often face pressure to have pap testing or routine pelvic and breast exams. The ONLY clinical requirement for the Pill is your medical history and a blood pressure test, yet the medical profession has used this consult to pressure and even coerce women into “elective” cancer screening and potentially harmful excess. Heads should roll, I consider this medical abuse.

    • Jackie Ferrante

      id like to talk to you more about that could we speak in facebook messages?

      • Eliz52

        Sorry, Jackie, I’m not on Facebook.
        I tried to link a site you might find helpful, but it hasn’t appeared so assume links are not permitted. Dr Margaret McCartney has a site worth checking out, I often post there.