Your pap smear isn’t enough to detect cervical cancer

Mar 18, 2014 at 11:10 a.m. ET

According to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel, the Roche’s HPV test should be the primary test for cancer screening ahead of a pap smear.

Doctor's office and pap test
Photo credit: JodiJacobson/iStock/360/Getty Images

The 13-member panel voted unanimously to make the Roche Cobas test the sole test for women over 25. There are other HPV tests on the market, but the Roche test can detect p16 and p18 — two strains that are found in 70 percent of women with cervical cancer.

This HPV test also is performed via a swab the same way a traditional pap test is done.

Dr. Thomas Wright Jr., an expert in gynecology and pathology at Columbia University Medical Center, said that 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in the U.S.

“This is especially tragic because cervical cancer is a largely preventable disease, and it is well established that HPV is the cause of almost all cervical cancers worldwide. Women need better access to screening tools that include primary HPV screening in order to reduce their risk of developing cervical cancer,” he said.

But the pap isn’t going anywhere — and neither is the uncomfortable nature of the test itself. Some experts recommend that women without HPV should still have a pap smear.

Some doctors use the pap smear and HPV test to detect cervical cancer in women who are over 30. According to the panel’s recommendations, women who have a positive p16 and/or p18 result with the HPV test would be referred to colposcopy. Women who test positive for high-risk HPV but negative for p16 and p18 would then talk to their doctors about having a pap to be referred to colposcopy.

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