It's time to reschedule screenings that could save lives

Your Health Matters

In the midst of January’s cervical cancer awareness month, it’s important to remind those we know and love and sometimes even ourselves of necessary health screenings like a Pap test.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been times when health care facilities could only offer virtual appointments and nothing in person. As public health measures became more commonplace and vaccinations for COVID-19 became available to more and more people, checkups and preventative screenings opened up once again.

Donna Lofton, an experienced nurse midwife with Meritus Women’s Health Specialists, says that it’s critical to reschedule these appointments.

“Routine cancer screening detects cancer early, even when patients have no signs or symptoms,” Lofton said. “Early detection saves lives and with cervical cancer No. 5 on the list of most common cancer in women worldwide, Pap tests are imperative for a woman’s health and well-being.”

According to a recent study commissioned by the Prevent Cancer Foundation, half of women in the U.S. between the ages of 21 and 60 don’t know how often they should be screened for cervical cancer.

“To be fair, the guidelines have changed recently as experts continue to develop new and better ways to screen for cervical cancer and manage abnormal results,” Lofton said. “While health care professionals commonly follow cancer screening guidelines from The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Cancer Society, patients should always consult with their providers for individualized recommendations.”

ACOG’s current recommendations include:

• First cervical cancer screening at age 21, regardless of sexual history

• Women ages 21-29 — Pap test every three years

• Women ages 30-65 — Pap test and human papillomavirus (HPV) test every five years or Pap test alone every three years or HPV test alone every five years.

• Women 66 and older — Pap tests may stop if there is no history of moderate or severe abnormal cervical cells or cervical cancer and they have had either three negative Pap test results in a row, two negative HPV tests in a row, or two negative co-test results (Pap + HPV) in a row within the past 10 years.

“But keep in mind that women who have a history of cervical cancer have weakened immune systems and several other factors, may require more frequent screening,” Lofton said. “That’s why regular, annual visits to an OB-GYN for these conversations and other clinical checks, like breast and pelvic exams, is absolutely necessary.”

The Prevent Cancer Foundation study noted that nearly a quarter of women ages 40 to 60 who were surveyed revealed it has been more than three years since their last appointment with their OB-GYN or primary care provider.

During the last 30 years in the U.S., the number of cases of cervical cancer and deaths has decreased by one half, mainly the result of women getting regular cervical cancer screening, according to The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Meritus Women’s Health Specialists has two practice locations — at Robinwood Professional Center and at 1130 Professional Court, Hagerstown — each staffed with board-certified obstetricians and gynecologists, nurse practitioners and midwives like Lofton. Women who had a scheduled Pap test canceled during the pandemic should contact their providers and get the appointments back on their calendars. Here’s to a Happy “Pappy” New Year!

This column first published in The Herald-Mail and online at in January 2022.