While the Pap smear remains the best initial cervical cancer screening tool for younger women, a recent Danish study has found that for older women (women age 40 and older), a test for human papillomavirus (HPV) is a much more effective way to screen for this cancer. According to the November 1, 2006 issue of Cancer Research, a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), HPV infection is both frequent and transient in younger women, resulting in positive testing for HPV when no actual risk of cervical cancer exists. In older women, however, HPV infection is rarer and more persistent, putting a woman at substantial risk for the disease before changes in cervical cells, detected by Pap smears, are obvious.
“We have documented that a single HPV test can actually predict older women at risk for cervical cancer better than a single Pap smear can,” said Susanne Krüger Kjaer, M.D., the study’s senior author and professor and head of the Department of Virus, Hormones and Cancer at the Danish Cancer Society.
Pap smears can detect abnormalities in the appearance of cells lining the cervix and have long been the primary screening tool for cervical cancer. The test has led to significant declines in both the incidence and morbidity of the disease in the United States. Some strains of HPV, which includes over 100 different virus types, are now recognized as the major cause of cervical cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved use of the HC2 High-Risk HPV DNA Test for women having abnormal Pap test results. In 2003, the FDA allowed the HC2 test, which checks for 13 high-risk HPVs, to be used for screening in conjunction with the Pap smear in women over the age of 30.
Please refer to the AACR press release for more information.
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