Testing: Pap Tests

Health Watch is a Public Service of the University News Bureau and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.



This week on Health Watch, we’re talking about tests that help doctors diagnose illness so treatment can begin sooner and be more successful. One test that’s been an annual ritual for women may be needed less frequently.

A Pap test can detect changes in cervical cells that could become cancerous, allowing doctors to diagnose cervical cancer early enough for successful treatment. New guidelines call for tests only every two years for women in their 20s and every three years for women in their 30s, as long as they’ve had three consecutive normal tests. Women younger than 21 don’t need Pap tests, even if they’re sexually active, because cervical cancer is very rare at that age and the tests are more likely to lead to false positives.

Dr. Claudia Werner, a gynecologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, says tests every two years are as effective at detecting precancers and early cancers as annual tests. That doesn’t mean women can start skipping their annual exams. The exams cover a variety of other health issues.

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December 2011

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