The results of two evidence reviews by the USPSTF on cervical cancer screening conducted by the panel were published Oct. 18 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
"Cervical cancer screening is a public health success story," said study author Dr. Evelyn P. Whitlock, a preventive medicine specialist at Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore. "The number of women dying from cervical cancer has been cut in half due to regular screening."
But "there are still about 12,000 women diagnosed with cervical cancer every year and 4,000 women die from cervical cancer each year," she said. "We need to continue to improve so we have a fully successful screening program. We are trying to improve on success and that is a pretty high bar."
To compare the Pap against the HPV test, the researchers analyzed four studies they deemed of fair-to-good quality, encompassing nearly 142,000 women.
HPV causes many cases of cervical cancer, and incorporating HPV testing into cervical cancer screening programs may catch more at-risk women. However, the researchers found that HPV testing, on its own, yields too many false positives which results in unnecessary testing, anxiety and health care costs for many women.
According to the new report, HPV testing is more sensitive, but less specific than the Pap test, Whitlock said. "This means that more women who have nothing wrong with them will test positive with HPV testing, and this may cause potential harm," she said.
During a Pap test, a doctor scrapes cells from a woman's cervix and a laboratory examines these cells for abnormalities. When a type of Pap test called a liquid-based cytology test is performed, testing for HPV can be performed at
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