There is a disturbing report out of the centers for disease control tonight.  It says the most common reason women say they do not get regular pap tests to screen for cervical cancer is because their doctors never recommend the test.


When you talk about public health efforts, it’s a great disappointment when you do have an effective screening strategy, and people don’t take advantage of it.  It’s even worse when it’s because doctors aren’t using the strategy.

But it's an important lesson: everyone needs to be their own, best health advocate.


It’s not the way Una Hopkins wants to spend her Monday--getting a pelvic exam and a pap smear.  “No, it’s not, it’s not fun at all, but it’s not painful, it’s just something that you have to do,” says Una.


Yet, according to a study just released by the centers for disease control and prevention, pap smears aren’t getting done.  The reason: doctors aren’t doing them or referring their patients for them.


The researchers found that among women who had visited a doctor in the last year, but who had not had a recent pap test, more than 85 percent reported that their doctor had not recommended a pap test in the last year.


But whose to blame?


Dr. Abbie Fields, an OB-GYN at Montefiore Medical Center, says, “The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that women go annually for a Pap Smear and a Pelvic exam, but it becomes confusing because the first line of defense is internist and family practitioners.  A lot of internists do not do Pap smears.”


As a result, this year, about 3,700 women will die of the disease. Many of these deaths could be prevented if women received pap tests regularly.  “I think that whoever, whichever physician or practitioner that a women presents to should be the first line and ask so have you had your mammogram this year, have you had your Pap smear this year,” says Dr. Fields.


Unfortunately, the problem is especially significant in the poor and minority populations, not necessarily due to lack of doctor follow-up.  “The majority of it is ethnic and social responsibility within the minority group.  They need to understand and overcome the fear that they have that going to a doctor will mean going to a hospital which will mean that they will die in a hospital,” states Dr. Fields.


Una says, fear is no reason not to get the pap and pelvic done.

"It does create some anxiety I certainly know that the early you find something wrong, the easier it is to treat and the more likely you have a chance for cure. You find something late because you didn't go, you're kickin' yourself."


All women should begin cervical cancer screening within three years of having vaginal intercourse, but no later than when they are 21 years old. 


And screening should be done at least every two years depending on the type of test used.


After age 30, a woman can get screened every two to three years if they have had normal pap smears before that.


And the bottom line is, a woman needs an annual pelvic exam, to look for other GYN cancers and abnormalities.  The pap, which only screens for cervical cancer, can be one to three years depending upon the woman and type of test used.  But you should go to the gynecologist every year. 


For more information on this study, on cervical cancer screening, and on how to get low cost or free screenings, go to: