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feminist wire | daily newsbriefs

June-23-04

Unnecessary Pap Smears Administered to 10 Million Women

Approximately 10 million American women who have had hysterectomies are unnecessarily receiving Pap smears, a new study has revealed. The Pap test, which screens for precancerous cells on a woman’s cervix, is needlessly administered to some 69 percent of women who have had their cervixes removed during the hysterectomy operation. Without a cervix, a woman is no longer at risk for cervical cancer. Twenty-two million American women, or one in five women over the age of 18 have had hysterectomies, according to the News-Medical.Net. Researchers caution that women who have had hysterectomies because of cancer or women whose hysterectomies did not include cervix removal are still at risk for cancer and ought to be screened, according to Reuters.

The continued administration of the test for some women means unnecessary cost and discomfort. A test generally costs between $20 to $40, researcher Brenda Sirovich estimated, and involves the uncomfortable procedure of scraping cells from the cervix. If a woman’s cervix has been removed, a doctor will typically scrape vaginal cells, a procedure that researchers call problematic. Vaginal cancer is extremely rare and false positives are fairly high. The unnecessary test can result, therefore, in cancer treatment for a cancer that is not even there, according to the New York Times.

Researchers are puzzled as to why doctors have so doggedly continued to administer the unnecessary exam. In 1996, the US Preventive Services Task Force clarified that the test was no longer necessary for women who have had hysterectomies. The research team claims that “physicians are largely responsible” for the continued testing, but also attributes the testing to screening benchmarks set up by insurance companies or to women’s own demands for the test, according to The Washington Times. Researchers speculate that women who have had hysterectomies may not be aware that they are no longer at risk for cervical cancer, or that they may have been caught up in the enthusiasm for cancer screenings.

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Media Resources: New York Times 6/11/04; NewsMedical.net 6/22/04; The Washington Times 6/23/04; Reuters 6/22/04


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