New cervical cancer guidelines start making Pap smears obsolete

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New cervical cancer screening recommendations out Tuesday may have started to make old-fashioned Pap smears a thing of the past for women over 30.

Most women may opt for the human papillomavirus (HPV) test, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) says in its latest recommendations.

And women over 30 can safely wait five years in between tests if they feel comfortable doing that, the task force says in the recommendations, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For women under 30, the Pap smear is still the best option, but testing every three years is all right. The recommendations are based on a now-solid body of evidence showing that almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus and that the HPV test is the best way to find evidence that the virus is causing the damage that can lead to cancer.

The guidelines, in short:

  • Women ages 21-29 should get a Pap smear every three years
  • Women ages 30-65 can get an HPV test every five years, or a Pap test every three years, or a combination every five years
  • Women over 65 who have had recent clear tests probably don’t need testing any more
  • Women under 21 probably do not need testing.

While the new guidelines may seem confusing, they are simpler than the last batch, said Dr. Kathleen Schmeler, a cervical cancer specialist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“It’s actually nice that they provide a lot of options,” Schmeler told NBC News.