/publications/issue/2004/2004-09/2004-09-4551

Millions of Women Get Unwarranted Pap Tests

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Routine Pap tests may be given needlessly to women who have had hysterectomies. In 1996, the US Preventive Services Task Force said that such tests are unnecessary for women who have had both their cervix and uterus removed for reasons other than cervical cancer. Recently, the American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists echoed the recommendation.

According to the results of a new study, however, the suggestion has not been taken seriously. The study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (June 23, 2004), found that 46% of such women were still getting Pap tests in 2002. Women with intact wombs usually have Pap tests annually, or sometimes every 2 to 3 years if they have had 3 normal tests in a row.

Looking at nationally representative data on 187,670 women who had undergone hysterectomies, Veterans Affairs researchers concluded that almost 10 million women were being screened unnecessarily. The study excluded women whose cervixes were not removed and those who had had hysterectomies due to cancer.