The latest in our video series where experts from the University of Chicago Medical Center answer frequently asked questions about popular medical topics. To suggest a topic or a question, please contact the editors.
In late November, the news was a confusing place for women’s health. In one week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released new recommendations on how often women should receive mammograms, concluding from computer modeling data that women in their 40s did not need yearly screening for breast cancer. Shortly thereafter, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists changed their guidelines on screening for cervical cancer, advising that women do not need to be screened until age 21 and can be given pap smears less frequently than the yearly tests previously recommended, as long as they are not considered to be at risk for cervical cancer.
Despite widespread press coverage, many women have been left with questions about their own individual need for breast and cervical cancer screening. Dr. Nita Lee, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago Medical Center, agreed to sit down for a Dr. FAQ interview and address several common patient questions about pap smears and other issues related to cervical cancer. Lee emphasizes that the new guidelines of pap smears every two or three years only applies to the population of women that have had no abnormal smears in the past; women who have previously had cancer, have a history of cervical dysplasia, or who may be immunocompromised still require yearly screenings. Lee also talks about the HPV vaccine, which protects women from the virus thought to cause the majority of cervical cancer cases.