Most of you can stop reading right now. The Pap smear is not a subject of general interest, but I spent five years working in a cytopathology automation research laboratory, part of an attempt to make the reading of Pap smears easier and more accurate. Thus the following headline was sure to catch my eye: Should HPV Test Replace the Pap Smear?
The primary purpose of the Pap smear is the early detection of cervical cancer, it is argued, but testing for human papillomavirus is easier and actually does a better job, although it generates more false positives, especially in younger women.
What I find most interesting is the unmentioned, but logical implication that those who are at no risk of contracting HPV, due to the simple expediencies of virginity or faithful monogamy, can dispense with both tests—surely a course of action the medical industry would not wish to endorse! Gastroenterologists have adopted a once-every-ten-year colonoscopy recommendation for low-risk patients, perhaps gynecologists should follow their example.
[This] recommendation is based on a study that found that the human papillomavirus (HPV) test prevented more cases of cervical cancer than the conventional Pap smear. Results of the study were published online Jan. 19 in The Lancet Oncology.
The HPV test should become the screening tool of choice for women 35 and older, the researchers said. It could be done less frequently than the Pap test, which could be used only in women who have tested positive for HPV, they said.