The study results showed that the human papillomavirus test is more sensitive than the widely used but often flawed method of performing a regular Pap smear, and several experts are predicting a strong push to replace Pap smears with simple HPV testing. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which creates guidelines for the diseases people should be screened for and when, still recommends Pap smears every three years for most women with uteruses ages 30 to 65, NPR reports.
Numerous medical groups have said that before moving to HPV testing only, they needed to see clinical trial results - such as the kind provided by the new head-to-head study - to determine which test, over time, was better at detecting the precancerous changes. Further, Ogilvie added, "If women have a negative HPV test, they are significantly less likely to have a precancerous lesion four years later, meaning we can extend screening time". They recommend further studies to help researchers understand long-term clinical outcomes and cost-effectiveness across both tests.
Of note, the Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care differs from the USA task force - it recommends Pap smear screening every three years between ages 30 and 69, citing weak evidence for screening women ages 25 to 29. From the participants, 9,552 women were screened using HPV test and those who were negative for the test came back after four years for a check if they had a pre-cancerous or cancerous lesion. "In most places that's not the case", Dr. Kathleen Schmeler, associate professor in gynecological oncology and reproductive medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, who was not involved in the study, told ABC news.
In the United Kingdom, women are initially tested for abnormal cells before further checks reveal if they need further treatment for HPV.
Even the most flawless tests can also be limited by the fact that not all women are receiving regular and timely screening. At the four-year mark, all women were tested using both methods.
"Multiple randomized trials have shown that primary HPV screening linked to subsequent identification and treatment of cervical precancer is more effective than Pap testing in reducing the incidence of cervical cancer and precancer, at the cost of lower specificity and more false-negative subsequent colposcopic assessments", Massad wrote.
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For Stephens, fresh from making the French Open final last month, it was her second successive first round loss at the tournament. Says Lewis: "I feel for him, but I think he'd be the first to say that The Championships are about more than one player".
Cervical cancer screening is essential because almost 13,000 women in the USA are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually.
Having HPV in your 20s is fairly common, and isn't likely to lead to cervical cancer.
At the start of the HPV FOCAL trial, a part of the women received a Pap smear, while the rest had the HPV testing. They focused mainly on moderate or severe changes to cervical cells (pre-cancerous changes) that could lead to cervical cancer.
It's possible these results were skewed because women received both treatment options at the end of the study. About 4,200 women will die of the disease. But there were still no final guidelines issued on this and that's why the new study might be important in helping with the decision.
This study conclusion adds to a body of research suggesting that HPV testing when combined with a Pap smear, produces the best results.
Most cervical cancers are caused by a particular strains of the Human papillomavirus, or HPV. Partly because of that, he said, "we're a long way away from replacing the Pap smear".
The Pap test identifies abnormalities in cervical cells, flagging health-care providers to take a closer look to see if they are precancerous, and then take appropriate action.