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Elizabeth Boskey, Ph.D.

Tongue Tied

By January 23, 2013

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A recent study which found that cervical cancer was linked to tubal ligation didn't surprise me. The link wasn't because the procedure puts women at risk. Instead, it was because women who don't need contraception are less likely to see their doctors for regular Pap smears. Pap smears can catch the early changes that signal the potential development of a cervical cancer, but they're not exactly fun. Therefore, women who don't need to see their OB-GYN for other reasons, such as regular contraceptive prescriptions or STD testing, are less motivated to go just to get smeared. (This is also why lesbians and older women are at increased risk.)

It's hard to figure out the best recommendations for how often to screen women for cervical cancer. Look too often, or just test for HPV, and you end up with too many false positive results that will never become cancer. Look too infrequently, and you have women whose cancer is picked up too late for easy treatment. The best guidelines for screening are a moving target - not surprising, since risk is dependent on age and other factors - which is why some doctors still pressure women to get tested once a year while others are happy to let women go 3-5 years without a test.

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