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HPV Test Helps Detect Cervical Cancer

Study Shows Lesions That Lead to Cancer Spotted Earlier Than With Pap Test Alone

HPV and Cervical Cancer continued...

Interim results involving just over 17,000 women between the ages of 29 and 56, enrolled in the study for an average of seven years, are reported in the Oct. 4 online edition of the journal The Lancet.

For the first five years of annual screening, about half the women got Pap tests and HPV tests to detect the presence of viral infection associated with cervical cancer and half got Pap testing alone. After five years, both tests were given to both groups.

In the follow-up analysis, women who had both tests early on also had earlier detection of lesions with the potential to lead to cervical cancer. However, the total number of these precancerous lesions was the same between the two groups over the two screening sessions.

Screening Less Often

The researchers conclude that HPV testing could lead to longer intervals between testing, raising the possibility that more women will be screened.

But HPV testing alone would not be a good strategy for screening women under 30 because so many young women have transient HPV infection, says Carmel Cohen, MD, Columbia University School of Medicine professor of obstetrics and gynecology.

"A younger woman who is positive for HPV is more likely to be negative again six months later," Cohen tells WebMD. "If we used the HPV test alone we would be putting younger women through a lot of needless follow-up testing."

Cohen says it remains to be seen if HPV testing will turn out to be a good single test for screening women who are 30 and older.

"Whether HPV positivity alone is an acceptable method of screening remains to be verified in studies with longer follow-up," he says.

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