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The 2 Medical Tests You Don’t Need

At least not yearly.

Research shows that routine physical exams and annual pap smears are not always necessary. Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

Two recent announcements regarding the effectiveness of medical procedures may save you some time and money at the doctor’s office.

For the general population, a study published in Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews found that regular doctor checkups don’t really save lives. In particular, the research found that annual physical exams did not cut the risk of dying from cancer or heart disease. 

In fact, the group of researchers found that those who saw their primary doctor on a regular basis were more likely to be diagnosed with high blood pressure and cholesterol, resulting in a potential problem of overdiagnosing patients. The US Preventative Service Task Force recommends that doctor appointments focus on patient-specific risk factors instead.

The second announcement came this week regarding women’s annual Pap smear. New guidelines issued by the US Preventive Services Task Force state that women should receive Pap smears no more than once every three years. 

Similar to the news on routine physical exams, task force members said that annual cervical cancer screenings lead to false-positive tests and painful biopsies. In addition, the new guidelines recommend against Pap smears for women under 21 years of age and women older than 65 who have had adequate prior screening and are not at high risk for the cancer.

It’s not the first time doctors have questioned the effectiveness of certain medical tests and procedures. In April, various medical organizations identified 45 tests and procedures they deemed unnecessary and potentially harmful to patients, including MRIs and CT scans. In fact, the American Academy of Family Physicians announced then that women younger than 21 should not receive Pap smears, since it can result in unnecessary anxiety and cost. 

Another list of unnecessary medical tests and procedures is scheduled to publish this fall.

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  • D. M.

    I totally disagree. I had a friend who had a routine Pap smear in 2010 and it was normal. In 2011 she opted for another test and they found she had cervical cancer and it was serious enough that they needed to remove her uterus. She was 38, no prior family history and had zero symptoms. These tests save more lives and are not harmful if repeated annually. This reeks to me of insurance companies trying to save money.

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