HPV testing could prevent around 600 cases of cervical cancer a year

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Currently, a woman registered with a GP receives her first invitation for cervical screening at the age of 25. There are three-yearly examinations between 25 and 49, and five-yearly examinations between 50 and 65. This is the first stage of screening.

Delayed Misdiagnosis

Cervical cytology was formerly known as the 'smear test'. It looks at cervical cells to detect abnormal changes that could lead to cancer. If a woman's cells show mild or borderline abnormalities then human papillomavirus (HPV) testing is used.

It is estimated that screening prevents up to 3,900 cases of cervical cancer each year in the UK. However, test results from Cancer Research UK has shown that testing women for HPV first, instead of using the traditional cervical screening test could prevent a further 600 cases of cervical cancer a year in England.

Primary HPV testing is carried out just like a smear test, however it is better at identifying women at risk of cervical cancer.

In England around 1,800 women aged 25-64 are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. The research shows that the use of HPV testing could cut that number by around a third and prevent cancer in an additional 600 women.

Professor Peter Sasieni said: "Cervical cancer screening is already hugely effective but our study shows how much better it could be by swapping to primary HPV testing. Not only would introducing primary HPV testing prevent more cases of cancer, it would also mean women who tested negative wouldn’t need to be checked as often."

However, the number of women referred to colposcopy would rise significantly which would inevitably increase the costs to the screening programme, at least until those who were HPV vaccinated reach middle age.

Hazel Nunn, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "Although we already have a very effective cervical cancer screening programme, this study suggests that we could do even better if primary HPV testing was introduced here in the UK."

"The National Screening Programme is already piloting the primary HPV test in some parts of England and this should give us a clearer indication of what such a major change to the screening programme would entail. Cervical cancer screening is very effective at catching abnormal cells before they develop into cervical cancer."

But it is still the case that some results are incorrectly read and reported the with the result that cancerous cervical cells are not diagnosed in a timely manner causing a significant delay in diagnosis by which time the cancer may be clinically invasive, whereas if cytology had been correctly identified as abnormal, treatment with a simple local method of therapy by colposcopy, before the cancer developed, would be given thereby avoiding more extensive treatment such as hysterectomy and its consequences.


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