Letters To The Editor

Cervical screening recommendations do not cover all circumstances

Mark H. Einstein, MD, MS


Cervical screening recommendations do not cover all circumstances

Starting cervical cancer screening at age 21 does not necessarily take into account the fact that we are seeing youngsters initiating sexual activity as young as age 9. We obviously see pregnancies early as well. Waiting to screen until age 21, therefore, may cause us to miss the development of high-grade lesions and cervical cancer. As you know, cases in the literature report instances of invasive cancer with first Pap test at age 21. Also, human papillomavirus (HPV) is spread by sexual activity, with the squamous columnar junction more susceptible to infection at a young age.

Recommendations regarding cervical cancer screening for older women also should take into account new sexual partners. Currently, both men and women are living longer and are remarrying or are sexually active with multiple partners. The fact that older women are desiring hormone replacement for vaginal lubrication and dyspareunia shows that they are sexually active even in their late 70s. I believe that the incidence of HPV infection to cervical, vaginal, and vulvar tissue will be increasing as a result.

In an age in which primary care physicians do not have time to perform Pap tests or vaginal, cervical, and vulvar exams because they are overwhelmed with keeping up with patients’ major medical issues is a misunderstanding regarding current recommendations for Pap test screening.

Elizabeth Reinoehl-McClaskey, DO
Onley, Virginia

Dr. Einstein responds

Sexual behavior can start early, but this does not lead to cancer. When we screen, we are looking for cancer, not HPV infection, which is quite common in women and men younger than age 21. Also, one might question whether current screening techniques pick up early-onset tumors. Regarding older women, sexual activity and the rate of older women getting cervical cancer should be considered in future guidelines.

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