Testing for the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV) is a more effective cervical cancer screening tool than Pap smear for women ages 40 and older, a Danish study finds. The study of nearly 10,000 women concluded that the Pap smear is still better for screening younger women, however.
HPV infection is the leading cause of cervical cancer.
The researchers said that HPV infection is both frequent and transient in younger women—meaning that they would often test positive for HPV when they had little risk of cervical cancer.
However, in older women, HPV infection is less common and more persistent, which puts them at substantial risk for cancer before changes in cervical cells (which are detected by Pap smears) are obvious, the researchers said.
They found that older women who test positive for HPV have a 20% greater risk of developing cervical cancer within 10 years than older women who don't have HPV. Furthermore, most women who test positive for HPV also test negative on a Pap smear done at the same time.
"Based on these results, we feel that an HPV test would benefit older women, whether or not that test is used in conjunction with Pap smears, or used by itself as an initial screen," said senior author Dr. Susanne Kruger Kjaer, professor and head of the department of virus, hormones and cancer at the Danish Cancer Society.
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