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Study: HPV Test Beneficial in Detecting Cervical Abnormalities

Results of a new study find that tests for the human papillomavirus (HPV) may be more effective at detecting cervical abnormalities than the traditional pap test. HPV is a common sexually-transmitted disease, some strains of which increase the risk for cervical cancer.

To conduct their study, researchers in Finland obtained information on over 58,000 women between the ages of 30 and 60 who participated in Finland's cervical screening program between 2003 and 2005. About half of the women received HPV tests and the other half received Pap tests to detect cervical cancer. The study found that the HPV tests were more accurate at detecting abnormal cervical cell changes than the Pap test. The researchers concluded that while the number of cases of cervical cancer was small in the study, the findings are of importance regarding cancer prevention.

The researchers noted that the study helps advance understanding of cervical cancer prevention. Past research has also shown promising results with HPV testing. However, physicians say the test should not replace the Pap test, which is a very effective screening tool for cervical cancer. Since 40 million Americans have HPV and most strains are harmless, testing for HPV is not beneficial unless Pap smears produce unclear results. Research also shows that the majority of women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer did not receive annual Pap smears to screen for the cancer.

There are over 80 different strains of HPV and while most do not pose any health risks, certain strains of HPV have been shown to increase the risk of cervical cancer. Strains of HPV such as  HPV-16, HPV-18, HPV-31, and HPV-45 can cause cellular changes that may lead to cervical cancer in women. It is estimated that one million new cases of HPV occur each year, and 20% to 40% of sexually active women have some form (usually not harmful) of HPV.

Additional Resources and References

The study, "Rate of cervical cancer, severe intraepithelial neoplasia, and adenocarcinoma in situ in primary HPV DNA screening with cytology triage: randomised study within organised screening programme," was published in the April 27, 2010 issue of the British Journal of Cancer

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