25 October 2007

Pap Smear 2.0

Researchers have developed a new and improved alternative to the Pap smear for detecting cervical cancer. Two studies with a combined 22,000 women involved examined a test based on detecting the HPV virus rather than looking for the cancer cells themselves under a microscope.

Participants in the study got both a Pap smear and an HPV test. Women with abnormal results in either test, along with a random sampling of those with normal results, had cervical biopsies . . . . the HPV tests detected almost 95 percent of the cancers, whereas the Pap smear caught only 55 percent.

Earlier detection can also permit less frequent testing (as infrequently as every three years if both tests were conducted and came out negative), but the HPV test is also more likely to diagnose cancer when it isn't there. The next step after the HPV test, is likely to be to do a pap smear to confirm the HPV test result, reserving a biopsy only for cases with conflicting results, since Pap smears have few false positive results.

Each year in the U.S. 11,250 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 3,670 women die from it. This test could save 1,200 lives a year or more in the United States alone.

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