Women May Need Cervical Cancer Screenings Less Frequently, Study Says

If you've had the HPV vaccine, you may not need as many screenings.

HPV Vaccine

Vaccine photo via istock.com/dina2001

Harvard is about to make women who hate Pap smears—which is to say, virtually all women—pretty happy.

According to a study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, women may only need to be screened for cervical cancer every five to 10 years, rather than the current standard of every three years. Those tests may also begin later than age 21, the study says.

Before you cancel all upcoming gynecologist appointments, know that the study comes with a caveat, and a big one: Harvard’s analysis applies only to women who have been fully vaccinated against HPV, and are thus at a lower risk of cervical cancer to begin with.

The study says women who received the HPV-9 vaccine, which protects against 90 percent of cervical cancers, could adopt the least intensive screening regimen: every 10 years, starting at age 30 or 35. Women who received the HPV-2 or HPV-4 vaccines, which protect against 70 percent of cervical cancers, could be screened every five years, starting at age 25 or 30. The study also says testing for HPV alone may be as effective as Pap testing, or having both HPV and Pap testing.

“This analysis enabled us to examine what would happen if we shifted from the current way we screen for cervical cancer—essentially, recommending the same type of screening for all women—to screening that takes into account whether women have been vaccinated against HPV and therefore face a substantially lower risk of cervical cancer,” researcher Jane Kim said in a statement. “We found that continuing intensive screening among HPV-vaccinated women yields excessive costs and harms with little to no health benefit.” 

Keep in mind that these recommendations are the findings of one study, and have thus far not been adopted by any national bodies. And if you skipped the HPV vaccine, think twice before skipping any screenings.