The Papanicolaou (or Pap) test was invented by Dr. Georgios N. Papanicolaou in the 1940s and requires technicians to look under a microscope for abnormalities in cell samples collected from the patient's cervix. It has been the standard screening procedure for cervical cancer for almost 50 years. The HPV test also requires the collection of cervical samples, but the analysis process is automated and detects the DNA of high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) strains known to cause cervical cancer.
A screening test's sensitivity is usually considered a more premium parameter than specificity, according to Dr. Franco. "A false positive may be very disturbing and psychologically distressing for the patient, but in the end, she's free of disease. False negatives are very serious business, however. The patient will be assured that she's negative, all the while a pre-cancer has a chance to become a cancer or her existing cancer has a chance to grow."
Though the results of the CCCaST study might have a bearing on the ongoing debate about vaccinating young women against HPV, Dr. Franco stressed that the two issues should be considered separately. "Vaccination is primary prevention; this study is about secondary prevention, which refers to screening. Even women who take the vaccine will still need to be screened, because the vaccines that are available now only prevent about 70% of all cervical cancers, and they're primarily for young women. The HPV test may be ideal for vaccinated women once they reach screening age, because it gives us an opportunity to monitor the protection that the vaccine is supposed to give them."
Dr. Franco added that, while the HPV screening test is now more expensive than a Pap test, that will likely change over time. "Moreover, because of its higher sensitivity and onl
|Contact: Mark Shainblum|