In order to check for signs of cervical cancer, every woman needs to take a Pap smear test regularly. This type of cancer is mostly caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), in as much as 99% of all cases. Quite often the smear test can be unpleasant for women, but luckily there is an easier way to screen for cervical cancer risk. On Tuesday a study was published in JAMA, which indicates that another method could be used by women who are in their 30s or over. This other option would be to simply test for HPV.
The HPV test could be more effective than the traditional screening
The HPV test, which was first approved in 2014, uses cervical and vaginal secretions to check for the presence of HPV. The HPV FOCAL trial, which is the name given to this new study, analyzed tests from 19,000 women from Canada over the course of four years. Some of them used the regular Pap smear screening, while others used the HPV testing. The research compared the results from both tests and it might be that the HPV test is more accurate than the other.
According to Dr. Kathleen Schmeler, who is a gynecologic oncologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the findings of this study have great implications on women’s health. She has also stated that in the U.S. it has been a struggle to prove that the HPV testing would be enough to screen for cervical cancer, due to the lack of evidence and comparison between this test and the Pap smear. This is why most women still choose both of them.
So which test is better?
Last year, USPSTF suggested that just one of the two tests should be enough for women who are 30 or more. But there were still no final guidelines issued on this and that’s why the new study might be important in helping with the decision.
At the start of the HPV FOCAL trial, a part of the women received a Pap smear, while the rest had the HPV testing. Two years later, the ones that tested negative after the Pap smear had another test of the same type. Then four years later, both groups were tested using both methods, in order to see the results. However, it looks like neither test was completely certain, as abnormalities were found in women from both groups who tested negative previously. Still, it seems that more accurate outcome came from the HPV test than from the Pap smear, which could influence decisions in the future. But even if the guidelines will be changed for women older than 30, those aged between 21 and 29 still need to take the Pap smear.