If there's any cancer screening that actually works -- one that saves lives without ruining any in the process -- it's the Pap smears used to detect cervical cancer in women.
Yet the mainstream is starting to back away from them -- and now, the latest recommendations say women can get smeared much less frequently. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says most women can get Pap smears every three years between the ages of 21 and 65.
Under 21 and older than 65 can skip the test altogether, and women between the ages of 30 and 65 can get theirs every five years if they get an HPV test at the same time as their Pap smear.
That's a test that checks for the presence of the sexually transmitted HPV virus that causes the cancer.
The Task Force says it just wants to cut back on screenings to lower the risk of overtreatment, since many cervical lesions will go away on their own -- and that's all true enough.
But the Pap smear doesn't have the same issues as some of the other cancer screenings, like the radioactive mammograms that can actually cause the very breast cancers they're supposed to detect -- so the risks here are minimal.
Dr. Mark Stengler put it best when I asked him about the new recommendations.
"I have no problem with yearly screenings with a procedure that is nontoxic," he told me.
On the other hand, he said some women can indeed safely go three to five years between screenings: women who are not sexually active and have no history that would suggest they're at risk for cervical cancer.
But a Pap smear is really just a small piece of the picture here, because the best way to beat this cancer is to avoid getting in the first place.
Dr. Stengler says one of the simplest ways to avoid the cervical dysplasia that can turn into cancer -- and even help beat the HPV infection that causes it -- is with a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, especially those rich in vitamin E.
In his book "Prescription for Natural Cures," Dr. Stengler also offers seven natural remedies for cervical dysplasia, including indole-3-carbinol (I3C) and diindolylmethane (DIM).
The names don't exactly roll off the tongue, but all you really need to know is that they're extracts from the cruciferous vegetables -- like broccoli -- that you should be eating anyway.
I'm not done with women's health yet. Keep reading for the latest natural solution for hot flashes.