What to know about new cervical cancer screening guidelines

A pediatrician gives an HPV vaccination to a girl in her office. The vaccine is given to prevent an STI that can cause cancer.  United States Preventative Services Task Force updated its 2012 recommendations regarding cervical cancer screenings. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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A pediatrician gives an HPV vaccination to a girl in her office. The vaccine is given to prevent an STI that can cause cancer. United States Preventative Services Task Force updated its 2012 recommendations regarding cervical cancer screenings. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cervical cancer is the fourth-most common cancer in women worldwide.

This week, the United States Preventative Services Task Force updated its 2012 recommendations regarding cervical cancer screenings.

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The update, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday, researchers from the University of California-Davis and Kaiser Permanente Northwest emphasized adequate screenings, "regardless of which strategy is used."

"Our biggest challenge is reaching women who have not been screened," UC Davis' Joy Melnikow, who led HPV testing research that helped inform the updated guidelines, said in a statement.

Related: Women who use IUDs may have reduced risk of cervical cancer, study says

Most cervical cancer is caused by HPV, or the human papillomavirus. The most significant update from the original recommendations is that women ages 30 to 35 have an additional option when it comes to screenings. They can opt to undergo an HPV test every five years, a Pap test every three years or both every five years.

Before this week, researchers recommended women in that age group receive a pap every three years, with HPV testing every five years.

Those aged 21 to 29, however, should not be tested for HPV to help screen for cervical cancer. Instead, they should only receive a Pap test every three years.

The new guidelines for cervical cancer screenings are below.

Women under age 21

  • Screening not recommended.

Women between ages 21-29

  • Should be screened every three years via a Pap test.
  • HPV testing not recommended.

Women between ages 30-65

  • Can either get an HPV test every five years, a Pap test every three years, or both every five years.

Women older than age 65 with recent negative tests/low risk

  • Screening not recommended, but patients should continue visiting their doctor on a regular basis.

Women who have had a hysterectomy with removal of the cervix and no history of precancerous lesion or cervical cancer

  • Screening not recommended.

"These recommendations do not apply to individuals who have been diagnosed with a high-grade precancerous cervical lesion or cervical cancer," the article said. "These recommendations also do not apply to individuals with in utero exposure to diethylstilbestrol or those who have a compromised immune system (eg, women living with HIV)."

While rates of new cervical cancers in the U.S. have declined in recent years, the number of new cases worldwide continues to rise as the population grows and ages.

Scientists with Florida Atlantic University and the University of Arizona estimate that 13,240 new cases of cervical cancer and 4,170 cervical cancer deaths are estimated to occur this year. They warned in an editorial that accompanies the new guidelines that the majority of those deaths will be "among poor women, women from communities of color, non-US-born women, and women living in rural and remote settings" who have limited access to preventive care.

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