New Breakthrough in HPV Testing: A Better Alternative to Pap Test

By Emily Murray

Over the last decade, we have seen more and more HPV cases reported, especially in teen girls and young women. While medical professionals have tried their best to slow the rapid trend of human papillomavirus (HPV) with vaccines and increased awareness, it continues to be one the most prevalent sexually transmitted infections.

It’s been noted that while not all women (or men) with HPV will develop cancer, the virus is responsible for more than 90% of cervical cancer cases in women. Until recently, there weren’t many options when it came to detecting HPV. In fact,  normal protocol was  further investigation after getting an abnormal Pap test back. Now, in light of a new study, a different type of test is being developed and is said to be able to detect “precancerous lesions” earlier than a Pap smear.

The study which lead to these findings followed 45,000 women ranging in age from 29 to 56 in the Netherlands. These women were placed into two groups: one that used the traditional Pap smear to detect HPV and the other that used a newer test in addition to the Pap.

After 5 years, all women involved in the study were then tested using both methods are were able to conclude that the newer test was more helpful in early detection. The women who had received this early testing method were able to be screened sooner and were not as likely as those who had only received a Pap smear to have cervical cancer over the next few years.

To put a number to this statistic, these women ran a 27% reduced risk of having “advanced precancerous lesions,” than those only tested by a Pap smear.

It appears that this more sensitive test is successful in catching warning signs earlier, and like all forms of cancer, detecting and treating cervical cancer early on is one of the keys to getting health back on track.

In  light of this recent study, it is believed that women 30 and over should rely on this newer form of testing for HPV.

This information was released in The Lancet  recently and now gives women more answers on how to best protect their cervical health. Currently (as cited in a WebMd article) the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends that women get Pap tests every 3 years between the ages of 21-65. It will still be some time before further testing will be done and a final conclusion will be drawn on alternatives to Pap tests for HPV screening, but for now the research has started a new conversation that will continue on in the medical world and hopefully lead to a more effective method of screening.