HPV Test Could Lower Need for Pap Smears
Test Helps Identify Women at Risk for Cervical Cancer
Overall, the number of new cases of cervical cancer occurring over the first three to four years was three times higher in women with an abnormal Pap smear and/or a positive HPV test compared with women who had both a negative Pap and a negative HPV test.
The HPV test is not approved for cervical cancer screening in women under the age of 30, but the NCI authors conclude that it could help target women who need the closest surveillance while sparing others the inconvenience, cost, and emotional pain associated with a false-positive Pap tests.
Gynecologic oncology specialist Carmel Cohen, MD, tells WebMD there are about 6,000 cervical cancers found each year among the 5 million women who end up having abnormal Pap smears.
"We need a better way to sort out those 6,000 invasive cancers and spare the rest of the women from the traumas associated with a positive Pap test," he says.
The director of the division of gynecologic oncology at New York's Mount Sinai Medical Center, Cohen says he hopes HPV testing will be a routine part of screening within the next few years. He served on the American Cancer Society (ACS) panel that recently issued new cervical cancer screening guidelines. The committee noted that HPV testing may be added to those guidelines once it wins FDA approval for cervical cancer screening.
Other recommendations included in the ACS report, issued Dec. 6, include:
- Cervical cancer screening should begin approximately three years after a woman begins having intercourse, but no later than age 21.
- Women who are 70 or older who have had three or more normal Pap test results and no abnormal results during the last decade can choose to stop cervical cancer screening.
- Screening after a hysterectomy in which the cervix is removed is not necessary unless the surgery was done as a treatment for cervical cancer or precancer. Those who have had a hysterectomy without removing the cervix should continue to be screened at least until age 70.