The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has issued new guidelines that extend the time between recommended pap tests. They were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Women between 21 and 65 would only need to be screened for cervical cancer only once every three years. Some women between 30 and 59 could wait up to five years if they combine their pap test with an HPV test.
Women under 21 and women over 65 could avoid all testing if they've already had a negative pap smear.
Dr. Wand Nicholson who helped create the guidelines says the gap in screening should lead to fewer false positives.
"The issue with false positive tests is it exposes women to further testing, and also there's the potential of over treatment, so women may undergo a procedure or treatment for a lesion that wouldn't otherwise progress to cancer," says Nicholson.
Women should talk with their doctors about testing and how long they should wait between screenings. Women with abnormal testing may need to be screened more often.
Pap test guidelines have not been changed since 2003. The American Cancer Society says they support the new guidelines.
It is not yet clear if the new recommendations will impact what insurance companies will cover. The task force says they did not take cost into account when releasing the new guidelines.