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Feature Women’s Health

US doctors are testing teenage girls needlessly

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 29 January 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m290
  1. Kim Painter, freelance journalist
  1. McLean, Virginia
  1. kimpainters{at}

Every year about 1.5 million young women in the US undergo invasive gynaecological exams. Kim Painter reports that doctors are going against their advisory bodies

Most teenage girls do not need pelvic examinations or cervical cancer screening tests, but many in the US get them anyway, new research shows.

Each year between 2011 and 2017 about 1.6 million girls and women aged 15 to 20 underwent unnecessary smear tests to screen for cervical cancer, and 1.4 million had pelvic examinations that weren’t needed, shows the study, published in January in JAMA Internal Medicine.

These practices are out of line with guidelines of major US medical groups, which have set 21 as the starting age for cervical cancer screening since at least 2012. Guidelines on pelvic examinations, which many US doctors learnt as a standard practice to screen for a range of gynaecological problems, have evolved in recent years, but …

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