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Is Pap testing still needed after hysterectomy?

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Therefore, given the low prevalence of disease and the lack of evidence of benefit of screening after hysterectomy for benign indications, Pap testing of the vaginal cuff is not recommended in these patients. 7

Screening for women at high risk after hysterectomy

For women with a history of grade 2 or 3 cervical intraepithelial neoplasia who have undergone hysterectomy, there are only limited data on subsequent disease risk.

Wiener et al 8 followed 193 post-hysterectomy patients who had a history of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia with Pap testing annually for more than 10 years for a total of 2,800 years of follow-up. The estimated incidence of abnormal cytology (0.7/1,000) was higher than in the general population. 8

Thus, for these women and for others at high risk who have undergone hysterectomy and have a previous diagnosis of cervical cancer, who had been exposed to diethylstilbestrol, or who are immunocompromised, Pap testing to screen for cancer in the vaginal cuff is recommended, as they are at higher risk of dysplasia at the vaginal cuff. 2


Despite recommendations against screening, many providers continue this non-evidence-based practice. 4

The 2000–2013 National Health Interview Survey of women age 20 or older who had undergone hysterectomy asked about their most recent Pap test by self-report. Women were excluded if they had a history of cervical cancer, if they had had a Pap test for another health problem, or if the result of the recent Pap test was not known. In 2000, nearly half (49.1%) of the respondents said they had received a Pap test in the previous year; in 2013, the percentage undergoing testing was down to 32.1%, but testing was unnecessary in 22.1%. Screening was largely due to clinician recommendations, but it was initiated by patients without clinician recommendations in about one-fourth of cases. 9 Lack of knowledge of the revised 2012 guidelines was cited as the primary reason for unnecessary screening. 10

A study of provider attitudes toward the cancer screening guidelines cited several reasons for nonadherence: patient concern about the guidelines; quality metrics that are incongruent with the guidelines; provider disagreement with the guidelines; risk of malpractice litigation; and lack of time to discuss the guidelines with patients. 11

As the healthcare landscape changes to team-based care, the clinician and the entire healthcare team should educate patients about the role of vaginal cancer screening after hysterectomy for benign reasons. Given the limited time clinicians have with patients during an office visit, innovative tools and systems outside the office are needed to educate patients about the risks and benefits of screening. 11 And notices in the electronic medical record may help busy clinicians keep up with current guidelines. 10


Pap testing to screen for vaginal cancer in women who have undergone hysterectomy for a benign indication is an example of more testing, not better care. Evidence is lacking to justify this test in women who are not at high risk of cervical cancer. To reduce the overuse of cytology screening tests, providers need to stay informed about evidence-based best practices and and to pass this information along to patients.

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