Don’t Rely on Your Pap Smear Schedule for Chlamydia Screening

If you’re sexually active, you’ve probably heard about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). That’s why you faithfully follow your doctor’s recommendations for regular checkups and Pap smears. But a recent change in testing frequency has decreased the amount of diagnoses of the most common bacterial STD—chlamydia. And doctors are worried.

Undiagnosed Chlamydia

Reduction in Pap Smear Frequency

Back in 2012, the United States Preventive Services Task Force changed its guidelines for cervical cancer screenings (using Pap smears) from every year to every three years. The organization made this change to help reduce the number of false positive test results and unnecessary biopsies. Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) is still recommending annual well-woman exams despite the Pap testing change.

The problem with the reduction in Pap smear frequency is that the test was also used to detect chlamydia. Therefore, since 2012, women have been screened much less frequently for this dangerous disease.

How Screening Frequency Impacts Diagnosis Rate

To determine how the decrease in Pap smears had impacted chlamydia diagnoses, medical researchers studied the health records of several women in Ontario, Canada from 2012 to 2014. Here’s what they found when comparing 2014 data with 2012 data:

Age

Chlamydia Screenings (2014)

Chlamydia Diagnoses (2014)

15 to 19

26% fewer

17% fewer

20 to 24

18% fewer

14% fewer

The results of this study were recently published by the Annals of Family Medicine. According to Dr. Michelle Naimer, a physician who co-led the study, “It’s not that the actual incidence has gone down, it’s just you’re not identifying them.” The long-term impact? “The risk… is that down the road, it will just spread more and you will have more cases in the future,” she explained.

The Dangers of Chlamydia

Why is chlamydia so dangerous? For one thing, it often doesn’t cause symptoms, so you might not even know that you have it. Plus, if left untreated, it can spread to your uterus and fallopian tubes, causing lasting damage to your reproductive system.

Untreated chlamydia can lead to:

  • Difficulties getting pregnant
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause ectopic pregnancy and chronic pelvic pain
  • Pregnancy-related complications
  • An increased risk of developing HIV

Recommendations for Screening

Besides practicing safe sex, one of the best ways to protect yourself from the dangers of chlamydia is to increase your screening frequency. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual screenings for chlamydia.

Pap smears aren’t the only way to screen for chlamydia. You can also take a simple urine test.

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To learn more about women’s health screening, call AOA at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com.