Despite the success of cervical cancer screening programs, questions remain about the appropriate time to begin and end screening. This review explores epidemiologic and contextual data on cervical cancer screening to inform decisions about when screening should begin and end.
Cervical cancer is rare among women younger than 20 years. Screening for cervical cancer in this age group is complicated by lower rates of detection and higher rates of false-positive results than in older women. Methods used to diagnose and treat cervical intraepithelial neoplasia have important potential adverse effects. High-risk human papillomavirus infections and abnormalities on cytologic and histologic examination have relatively high rates of regression. Accordingly, cervical cancer screening in women younger than 20 years may be harmful.
The incidence of, and mortality rates from, cervical cancer and the proportion of U.S. women aged 65 years or older who have had a Papanicolaou smear within 3 years have decreased since 2000. Available evidence supports discontinuation of cervical cancer screening among women aged 65 years or older who have had adequate screening and are not otherwise at high risk. Further reductions in the burden of cervical cancer in older women are probably best achieved by focusing on screening those who have not been adequately screened.