When it comes to our health, we like to think it’s better to be safe than sorry. But according to a new study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, women are being over-tested for HPV, a costly and potentially dangerous practice.
How Much Is Too Much?
Most women are in the habit of getting routine Pap smears, and rightly so–Pap smears are useful in detecting cervical infections and early stages of cancer. The CDC reports that 60% of gynecologists, however, are now conducting HPV tests along with routine Pap smears. HPV is the most common sexually-transmitted disease in the U.S. and has been linked to cervical cancer. But, over-testing for HPV, especially in young women, can be more harmful than helpful.
HPV is common among young women in their 20s. In fact, at least half of sexually active people will get it at some point in their lives. Only a few of the 40 strains of HPV can lead to cancer, and the chances of the virus becoming cancerous for young women are especially slim. HPV screenings in young women with a low risk for cervical cancers hike up medical costs. They also require unnecessary procedures such as biopsies and cryosurgery, which can weaken the cervix, possibly causing difficult pregnancy and even premature labor later on.
How Often Should I Get Tested?
The most important thing, ladies, is to ask your doctor if the treatment you’re getting is necessary or not. The American Cancer Society suggests that women begin getting annual Pap smears when they turn 21. Women who have had three normal tests in a row can start getting fewer Pap smears in their 30s–one test every two or three years if accompanied by an HPV screening. Regular HPV screenings are important for older women and as follow-ups to questionable Pap smears.