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Pap Tests Save Lives: May 21, 2012

It is hailed as one of the most successful cancer screenings ever.

“The Pap smear allows us to look at a very large population of women that may be at risk for cervical cancer and then comb down which women really need a little more attention,” says Dr. Ed Halpren, an obstetrician/gynecologist with the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

Women are more likely to survive cervical cancer if it is picked up during a Pap test. A recent study tracked cancer patients for almost a decade and found those diagnosed through a Pap test had a 92% cure rate compared to 66% for those diagnosed later.

“The advantage of the Pap test is it actually finds precancerous lesions before they develop into a cancer,” says Dr. Halpren.

“The earlier the better,” says Frances Hoag.

Frances is an advocate of healthy living and health screenings. She’s glad her daughter grew up at a time when women’s health care was easily accessible.

“Maybe when I was growing up it wasn’t spoken about much but I think today it’s much more open,” says Hoag.

Now health experts believe this could be too much of a good thing. New guidelines recommend the Pap every three years instead of annually. It was found to prevent just as many cancer deaths, with fewer false positives resulting in unnecessary biopsies.

New guidelines also start screenings at age 21 and state women between 30 and 65 can opt to get tested every five years if they combine it with an HPV screening. Time tested and tweaked, the Pap test is here to stay.

“It’s had an excellent history and a tremendous reduction in cervical cancer in our lifetime,” says Dr. Halpren.