Holy Toledo! Now we don't need Pap smears as often. Have we been (the equivalent) of navel-gazing in the past, getting ourselves checked out too often? Our society is paranoid about cancer. Screenings make us feel like we're doing something, like we're being (that horrible corporate word) pro-active. As Sen. Arlen Spector told the New York Times, That is curious. The past recommendation had been for young women to have Pap smears three years after becoming sexually active. Now the guidelines are to wait until age 21, no matter when a girl started having sex. The numbers bear this out: only two new cases per million teens (15 to 19 years old) per year in the U.S. What if you are one of the two girls? Everything makes sense, statistically, but not if you're one of the statistics. The old tension between the individual vs. the community. Cervical cancer is slow-growing, and pre-cancerous conditions often don't turn into cancer. Surgery for the pre-cancerous conditions could lead to premature births, says the Times. This is the same thinking that went into the decision to recommend mammograms less often. The mammograms picked up non-cancerous tumors, which led to biopsies and more tests, for nothing, I guess you could say. And anxiety. Everyone is worried about our anxiety. I think most women would vote for a little surgery and anxiety so that their anxiety about cancer would be lessened. At least most women who have the choice. A student of mine this fall thinks she has mono but can't afford health insurance or a visit to a doctor. She assured me last night she was no longer contagious. But she wasn't absolutely sure about the diagnosis, which had been delivered by a guess-timating nurse. We all need the health insurance coverage that our federal elected officials get. Don't we deserve that?