New Regulations for Pap Smears

"I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1989. It was really a surprise. I was perfectly healthy, and it came as a shock,” says Peggy Clark.

When Peggy was diagnosed with cervical cancer, she had been getting regular Pap tests and, sometimes, the tests were inconclusive.

"But it was never clear what the results meant. Sometimes the next test came back okay," Peggy explained.

To help doctors and patients better understand a woman's risk of developing cervical cancer, the FDA has issued new guidelines for testing women over 30 that includes identifying the cancer-causing virus known as HPV.

"HPV is the Human Papilloma Virus, and it is the virus that causes cervical dysplasia. It is also the virus that causes cervical cancer," explains Dr. Charla Spenser, a Tyler gynecologist.

If you are having abnormal test results, your doctor will now recommend you get an HPV DNA test. The test looks specifically for the HPV virus. Dr. Spenser says the test can determine your risk for cancer.

"If you get an abnormal Pap back but HPV is negative, you can reassure the patient she will not need a Pap for the next year or several years. She has no risk of having cancer. If the test comes up all clear, doctors say women over 30 won't need a yearly Pap anymore, but you'll still need a yearly exam," says Dr. Spenser.

Peggy says the new test is important and could save lives. It's a medical breakthrough she's happy to see come about.

"In my case, if we had the DNA with Pap, we probably would have known for sure that I would be someone who would likely get cervical cancer. I've survived and I'm lucky now. Not everyone is," says Peggy.