Alberta, citing research, lengthens interval to three years between pap smears

Alberta is lengthening the suggested interval between Pap smears to three years from one.

EDMONTON — Alberta is lengthening the suggested interval between Pap smears to three years from one.

Revised guidelines, developed by a panel of physicians and health experts, reflect research that indicates cell changes that lead to the cancer take years to develop and can be caught with less frequent Pap tests.

It’s hoped the changes will mean more women get Pap tests.

Lack of screening and under-screening are cited as the major risk factors for what is an otherwise preventable disease.

“The new guideline is evidence-based and is aligned with cervical screening guidelines followed in other provinces in Canada,” said Dr. Verna Mai, head of the Screening Action Group for the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.

“It should be a welcome change for women as there will be fewer Pap tests needed for women who have repeated normal results.”

The new rules also urge Pap smears begin three years after sexual activity begins or at age 21, whichever comes first, rather than the previous age of 18.

Research now shows that cervical cancer is rare in women under 21.

Dr. June Bergman co-chair of the cervical cancer screening guideline committee, says the guidelines are just that — guidelines.

“Women should discuss their previous Pap test results and other health issues with their primary care provider to determine what’s best for them,” she said.

About 150 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Alberta each year, and 40 per cent of them die.

Widespread testing in the last 40 years has cut the death rate significantly, yet it’s estimated that one Alberta woman in three has not been tested in the last three years.

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