As it stands, as many as 1 in 4 U.S. teenage girls has had an STD at some point in her life, often soon after she becomes sexually active, according to research published this week in Pediatrics.
“I am concerned that without the recommendation for young women to get Pap smears early on, they will lose important opportunities to seek advice and to learn about their healthparticularly their sexual healthat a time in their lives when they need it most,” says Kimberly Spector, an adolescent health educator in Los Angeles. “Regardless of the tests performed during a gynecologist visit, the conversation regarding sexual health risks and preventative measures can be very informative and empowering for young patients."
In the past, women were told to start Pap tests, which can detect abnormal cells in the cervix, three years after becoming sexually active or at age 21whichever came first. However, these abnormal cells often go away on their own, particularly in young women. If they don’t, such cells grow so slowly that catching them at age 21 is still early enough to remove them before they become cancerous. And catching them sooner could lead to unnecessary tests and treatments that sometimes damage the cervix, increasing the risk for a premature birth later in life.
The new guidelines still recommend that girls who are under 21 see a gynecologist; they just don’t need Pap tests, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.