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Expert Alert

U of M expert helps write guidelines recommending cervical cancer screenings every three years

January 17, 2012

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month, so there is no better time for women to begin thinking about a strategy for defending against the disease.

But many women remain confused about when they should be screened, and how often. Complicating matters, screening recommendations have long varied between the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force and a separate coalition of groups, including the American Cancer Society.

Fortunately, two sets of draft guidelines have recently fallen into agreement and recommend screenings only once every three years instead of annually. But despite the recommendations, many women want to know: what’s the downside to over-screening?

A University of Minnesota expert who can discuss the potential harm caused by over-screening and the details of new guideline recommendations is:

Shalini Kulasingam, assistant professor of epidemiology in the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, who also worked on both sets of draft guidelines.

According to Kulasingam, over-screening can result in false positives, additional tests to rule out disease and potential treatment complications, especially for women of child-bearing age.

Additionally, the number of cases and number of deaths from cervical cancer have declined significantly over the last 40 years. While some would point toward additional screening as the reason why, Kulasingam stresses that annual screening is no longer recommended by either reviewing group.

“For a long time in this country—because of discrepancies between these different sets of recommendations—clinicians have continued to screen women every year,” she said. “But now with this set of recommendations, with both large groups coming out and recommending that women be screened every three years, hopefully, we will see a decrease in over-screening, especially in younger women.”

The new guidelines, which are expected to be released in mid-2012, recommend women first screen for cervical cancer at the age of 21 and end at age 65, as long as results have been normal and there has been no increase in risk.

To hear a podcast of Kulasingam discussing the issue, visit http://z.umn.edu/627. To schedule an interview with Kulasingam, contact Tiffany Jungers, (612) 624-5680.

Tags: Academic Health Center

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