Teens and Pap Smears

When to Get One
All sexually active women should be getting yearly Pap smears and gynecological exams. Any woman over the age of 18 should also be getting regular Pap smears and a general gynecological exam, regardless of whether or not they are sexually active. Unfortunately, most sexually active teens do not realize that they should be getting Pap smears. This may be dangerous, as they are at higher risk for cervical cancer, which is what pap smears are designed to detect.

Why do teens need Pap smears?
A study conducted on sexually active adolescent girls ages 10 to 19 years found a higher incidence of pre-cancerous cells than in a groups of women ages 20-29. In addition, a greater number of the girls showed infection with either HPV (human papillomavirus), which is a known to be a possible cause of cervical cancer, or yeast infections. As a result of these findings, the researchers recommended that regular Pap smears should be done on pediatric and adolescent patients, as well as on adult women. However, this recommendation exhibits a kind of backwards logic. We would not recommend that 10 year olds be having sex in the first place. Wouldn't it be better to aim health efforts at the prevention of sexual activity among such young girls?

The New HPV Test
Another bit of recent news is that the FDA has approved a DNA based test for HPV, a sexually transmitted disease. According to Digene, the company that developed this test, it can detect about 90%-95% of cervical cancer cases, whereas only about 70%-80% of cancer cases are routinely detected via a Pap smear. It is hoped that this test may prevent the over-treatment of women with suspicious Pap smears. This is not to say that women should not go in for Pap smears merely because they are not 100% accurate. They are a good, reliable way to detect many kinds of abnormal cell formations on the cervix. Most of these abnormal findings can be treated easily, and Pap smears still serve as an early warning of possible cervical cancer.

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