Doctors are split regarding the role the HPV test can play in cancer screening.
Two medical groups claim that doctors could replace the Pap smear with the HPV test to screen many women for cervical cancer. This recommendation was included in an “interim guidance” released Thursday.
For years doctors have recommended that women get routine Pap smears to catch any signs of cervical cancer in its early stages. A Pap smear requires taking a scraping of cervical cells to check for signs of abnormalities that can presage cancer. Pap smears have significantly reduced the number of U.S. women who get the disease and die from it.
However, human papilloma virus is now believed to cause the most cases of cervical cancer. The Food and Drug Administration approved a test for the HPV virus as a primary screening test for the malignancy last spring. That decision prompted an intense debate about whether an HPV test could merely supplement or perhaps replace the Pap test.
In order to review, the American Society of Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology and the Society of Gynecologic Oncology put together an expert committee to review how the HPV test should ultimately be used.
The report was released in the journal Gynecologic Oncology. It concluded that doctors could consider the HPV test a primary screening test for women beginning at the age 25.
According to one of the researchers, the HPV test really outperforms Pap smears when it comes to cancer detection as well as precancerous detection. Pap smears are probably missing a good amoung of cancer and precancer in women.
The use of the HPV test more widely would allow doctors to pick up disease in women that could be treated earlier so they do not go onto develop cervical cancers.
Unfortunately, not all doctors agree. Members of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists believe it is too soon to make such a change. Some worry that the results would unnecessarily frighten many women. Many women who get HPV will never get cancer. In many cases, an infection with the virus is just temporary.