July 22, 2014 — Testing negative for the human papillomavirus more accurately indicated that women would not develop cervical cancer or other abnormal cervical cells over the next three years than did traditional Pap tests, according to a new study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Reuters reports.
According to Reuters, Pap tests -- in which physicians collect cervical cells to look for abnormalities -- have traditionally been used to evaluate a woman's risk for cervical cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in 2012 recommended that women between ages 21 and 65 undergo a Pap test every three years for cervical cancer screening, while women ages 30 to 65 could instead opt for cotesting -- or undergoing both a Pap and an HPV test -- every five years.
For the study, researchers at the NIH's National Cancer Institute examined data on more than one million women between ages 30 and 64 who had been screened for cervical cancer at Kaiser Permanente Northern California since 2003. They then followed women who received a negative HPV test or Pap test to see if they developed cervical cancer over the next three years, while following women who received both tests for five years.
In the three years following testing, the researchers found that roughly 20 out of 100,000 women developed cervical cancer after a negative Pap test, compared with just 11 out of 100,000 women who received a negative HPV test. Meanwhile, about 14 of every 100,000 women developed cervical cancer in the five years following negative results from cotesting.
Julia Gage, lead author and a researcher at NCI, said, "Primary HPV screening might be a viable alternative to Pap screening alone." However, she said that Pap tests still could be valuable in helping ascertain whether women who have HPV develop abnormal cervical cells (Seaman, Reuters, 7/18).