To Screen Or Not Screen-That’s the Question, What’s the Answer?

Annual cancer tests are becoming a thing of the past. New guidelines for cervical cancer screening have experts at odds over some things, but they are united in the view that the common practice of getting a Pap test for cervical cancer every year is too often and probably doing more harm than good.
A Pap smear once every three years is the best way to detect cervical cancer. Recently it was recommended against prostate cancer screening with PSA tests, which many men get every year.
Two years ago, it said mammograms to check for breast cancer are only needed every other year starting at age 50, although the American Cancer Society still advises annual tests starting at age 40. A large study found more false alarms for women getting mammograms every year instead of every other year.
It’s a fact that the more tests that you do, the more likely you are to be faced with a false-positive test that leads to unnecessary biopsies and possible harm. We see an emerging consensus that annual Pap tests are not required for us to see the benefits that we have seen from screening.
Those benefits are substantial. Cervical cancer has declined dramatically in the United States, from nearly 15 cases for every 100,000 women in 1975 to nearly 7 per 100,000 in 2008. About 12,200 new cases and 4,210 deaths from the disease occurred last year, most of them in women who have never been screened or not in the past five years.
The cancer society and other groups say using Pap smears together with tests for HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer, could improve screening. Instead, reaching women who are not being adequately screened now probably could save more lives.
Bottom Line: Patients need to be informed about the benefits vs. the risks of screening. By being knowledgeable about the screening tests and having a discussion with your doctor is the best way to come to a decision about screening in your situation.

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