Medical Advice: Mammogram and Pap Screening Recommendations

Dr. Melancon discusses mammogram and Pap screening recommendations

Mammogram and Pap Screening Recommendations

The federally sanctioned U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently issued new findings about women’s health. The panel of experts recommended that women begin routine screening mammograms at age 50. This differs from long-established guidelines advising women at low risk for breast cancer to begin screening at 40, and continue them annually. That’s still the recommendation of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. And, more recently, the American Cancer Society changed its recommendation to age 45. With these differences, it is challenging to determine which mammogram and Pap screening recommendation to follow.

Mary Melancon, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist, says patients often ask what they should do. “We are happy they are reaching out,” Dr. Melancon said. “Every woman’s situation is different, and your health provider is your best resource.” Dr. Melancon notes that the major advisory groups, including the American Cancer Society, agree that women with low risk factors for cervical cancer need a Pap screening every three years from ages 21-29, and every five years for ages 30-65, including a screening for human papillomavirus, or HPV. Women are at high risk for cervical cancer if they have a weakened immune system, are HIV positive, or have a previous history of cervical cancer or pre-cancer. These are a few conditions that can influence the frequency of mammograms and Pap screenings. Women should discuss their specific situations with their physicians to determine the plan that is best for them.

Dr. Melancon emphasizes, even if testing isn’t recommended yearly, it’s still important for women to receive regular gynecological checkups. “We urge women to maintain a relationship with their providers, even after menopause,” she says. “It’s vital to check in, remain current with health screenings and discuss any changes or concerns.” 

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