More than 12,000 women a year get cervical cancer, yet up to 93% of these cancers are preventable. The Centers for Disease Control reports that up to 8 million American women have not been screened for cervical cancer in the last 5 years, which is approximately 10% of all women who are at risk for the disease. The Papanicoolaou (Pap) test screens for abnormal cells and is a time tested screening method for detecting cervical carcinoma. More recently, testing for HPV infection to identify women at high risk for the disease has also been added to the screening and detection process. HPV vaccination is also another important part of the cervical cancer reduction public health program; however, vaccination does not prevent against all cervical cancers, and screening is critical to early diagnosis.
New guidelines for cervical cancer screening have been released by the American Cancer Society in conjunction with the U.S. Preventive Task Force (USPTF) that are based on new understanding of the role that human papillomavirus (HPV) infection plays in the development of this disease. The guidelines recommend less frequent testing across all age groups and are aimed at detecting early cellular abnormalities while at the same time reducing unnecessary biopsy procedures and the anxiety caused by false positive PAP smears. Vaccination against HPV has reduced the incidence of cervical malignancy but the vaccine only protects against for 70% of cervical malignancies. The decreased recommendations for screening may cause women to reduce the frequency of their gynecologic visits and consequently cause missed opportunities for the detection of other women's health issues that are detected during routine visits.