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Cervical cancer screening with the Pap and HPV test

HPV is a very common virus that is spread through genital skin-to-skin contact; it is estimated that 80% of women get HPV by age 50. Although most cases of HPV resolve without further problems, certain types of HPV can cause cervical cancer.

In response to advances in technology and cervical cancer research, we are now using the HPV test in conjunction with the Pap smear for women age 30 and over. For this population of women, the combination of both test results provides a better screening tool for cervical cancer and the risk of developing cervical cancer.

The Pap and the HPV test each screen for two different conditions. A Pap smear looks for abnormal cell changes on the cervix that occur as a result of a persistent high-risk HPV infection, while the HPV test looks for the HPV infection itself, even if it hasn’t yet caused abnormal cells.

We use the HPV test in conjunction with the screening Pap test for women age 30 and over to assess more accurately the risk of cervical cancer. Women who test negative for high-risk HPV AND have a normal Pap test have virtually no risk of developing cervical cancer before their next scheduled visit. Historically the recommendation has been to have a Pap smear annually. However, the recent advances in technology and extensive research have allowed for changes in the need for follow up screening in some cases. Depending on your results, you may not need another screening until three years have passed. Knowing your HPV status in combination with your Pap results helps you and your practitioner determine how often you should be screened.

In patients age 29 and younger, the annual Pap smear remains the recommended screening test. Routine HPV testing isn’t necessary in this population because HPV infections in younger women usually go away on their own without causing problems. We invite you to discuss your questions about cervical cancer screening with your practitioner.

Click here for more information about cervical cancer screening


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