What to know about the new cervical cancer screening guidelines

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Women's risk of dying from cervical cancer is much higher than scientists previously estimated, according to a 2017 Johns Hopkins study. The study found that black women in the U.S. are dying at a 77 percent higher rate, while white women are dying at a 47 percent higher rate. Previous findings didn't account for women who had hysterectomy procedures, which eliminates the risk of developing the cancer. The National Cancer Institute found that there were about 12,990 new cases of cervical cancer in the Uni

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, and, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday, researchers from the University of California-Davis and Kaiser Permanente Northwest emphasized adequate screenings, "regardless of which strategy is used."

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"Our biggest challenge is reaching women who have not been screened," UC Davis' Joy Melnikow, who led HPV testing research that helped inform the updated guidelines, said in a statement. Most cervical cancer is caused by HPV — or the human papillomavirus.

The most significant update from the original recommendations is that women ages 30 to 35 have an additional option when it comes to screenings. They can opt to undergo an HPV test every five years, a Pap test every three years or choose a combination of both every five years.

Before this week, researchers recommended women in that age group receive a pap every three years, with co-testing every five years.

Those aged 21 to 29, however, should not be tested for HPV to help screen for cervical cancer. Instead, they should only receive a Pap smear every three years.

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The new guidelines for cervical cancer screenings

Women under age 21

  • Screening not recommended

Women between ages 21-29

  • Should be screened every three years via a Pap test (or "cervical cytology")
  • HPV testing not recommended

Women between ages 30-65

  • Can either get HPV test every five years, Pap test every three years, or combo every five years

Women older than age 65 with recent negative tests/low risk

  • Screening not recommended, but patients should continue visiting doctor on regular basis

Women who have had hysterectomy with removal of cervix and no history of precancerous lesion or cervical cancer

  • Screening not recommended

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"These recommendations do not apply to individuals who have been diagnosed with a high-grade precancerous cervical lesion or cervical cancer," researchers noted, adding that they "also do not apply to individuals with in utero exposure to diethylstilbestrol or those who have a compromised immune system (eg, women living with HIV)."

While rates of new cervical cancers in the U.S. have declined in recent years, the number of new cases continues to rise as the population grows and ages.

Scientists with the Florida Atlantic University and University of Arizona estimate that 13,240 new cases of cervical cancer and 4,170 cervical cancer deaths "are projected to occur" this year, they wrote in an editorial with the new guidelines., warning that the majority of those deaths will be "among poor women, women from communities of color, non-US-born women, and women living in rural and remote settings" with minimum access to preventive care.

Read more about the screening recommendations at jamanetwork.com.