The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently recommended that women should stretch annual Pap and cervical cancer screenings to every other year during their 20's. Women 30 and older can now wait three years between screenings.

These screenings can find pre-cancerous cells and allow doctors to treat them before they become cancer. The ACOG reports that cervical cancer rates have fallen by more than 50 percent in the past 30 years, due mainly to widespread Pap screenings.

That's a big step for women's health. But if the test has saved thousands of lives each year, why loosen screening standards?

This report comes on the heals of another controversial report, which states that women should wait until age 50 to have their first mammogram.

The ACOG claims that less-frequent screenings should be enough to catch "slow-growing" cervical cancer, especially among the youngest adults. This argument is absurd.

How would you feel if slow-growing cervical cancer was allowed to grow and spread for 2-3 years in your mother, sister, daughter, or best friend? Cancer is easiest to treat in its earliest stages, and full-blown cervical cancer is mainly preventable.

These women may miss a valuable window of opportunity for treatment and a cure.

Health screenings also encourage young women to find a doctor's office that they trust and to build a relationship with their physician. This is an important process for women of child-bearing age. It offers women a chance to ask questions about their health and review any concerns they have, giving future mothers an opportunity to improve their health before they conceive.

The concern of many health professionals is that once national standards for women's health care are lowered, health insurance companies will stop covering annual exams and cervical cancer screenings for women. They typically base their coverage standards on national health organization recommendations, including the ACOG.

Many health insurance companies now encourage "well visits" for women, offering free or low-cost annual visits to their family doctor and GYN office for yearly screenings.

This is a clear sign that preventative tests like the Pap and mammograms work. After all, insurance companies aren't covering us out of the kindness of their hearts.

They're here to make a profit and save money. They want women to receive annual screenings because they know that when health problems are caught early, these problems cost less to treat and are more likely to be successfully treated.

Of course, even if medical standards do change, women can still request exams that aren't covered by their insurance. My last "well visit" cost $120 before insurance, plus an additional $65 for a Pap screening. I made the appointment because it's an important test for all young women - but I knew that my insurance would pay the entire bill.

Can the women in your life afford to pay $200 for one doctor's visit and screening? More importantly, can they afford not to gave these screenings?

The health care standards set today will affect an entire generation of young women. These new recommendations seem to be a step in the wrong direction.

By Stacey Solt

tneditor@tnonline.com