Cervical cancer screenings may do more harm than good
You may think that screening for cancer is always a good thing – but that isn't necessarily the case. According to new research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, annual cervical cancer screenings may be doing more harm than good. For decades, women aged 21 to 69 have been encouraged to get screened once a year, but the researchers recommended that screenings once every three years could be just as effective without raising as many risks.
The study acknowledged that while doctors said they were comfortable with the longer testing interval, they had concerns that their patients might not come in for annual check-ups if Pap tests, the screening test for cervical cancer, were not offered. The problem, according to the researchers, is that annual Pap tests produce more abnormal results leading to additional, invasive testing that itself bring risks. Biopsies, an example of a more invasive test, can lead to pain and bleeding, and potential psychological harm. Pap tests can indicate "cancer precursors" which may never develop into anything, yet doctors and patients alike may be moved to go ahead with treatment – even if it has accompanying side effects.
About half of OB/GYNs still provide annual exams. While there is an important benefit to undergoing regular screenings, the study authors argue that screening every three years provides 95 percent of the benefits of annual screening, but reduces the potential harm by two-thirds.