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Thanks to new cervical cancer screening guidelines, the 3.5 million American women who learn they have abnormal pap smear results each year will experience far less anxiety. Until recently, there was no national consensus on how to treat women with the most common abnormal diagnosis (atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance, or ASC-US). Many women diagnosed with ASC-US were left to wait and worry for months while their doctor monitored the results of repeated paps. And some doctors simply ignored ASC-US, even though it can be associated with cancer.
That's why Thomas Wright, M.D., director of gynecological pathology colposcopy services at New York's Columbia University, enlisted 121 cervical cancer-screening experts from 29 institutions to standardize care following an ASC-US result. The new guidelines urge doctors to test abnormal liquid-based paps immediately for human papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that is present in almost all cervical cancer. Women who test negative for HPV won't require further testing, and their cancer fears can be put to rest.
Since then, the American Cancer Society has recommended routine HPV screening for women over 30. Also, researchers recently announced the development of an HPV vaccine that may prevent cervical cancer in the future.