Cervical cancer is making many new positive advancements in testing and non-invasive screening.
Many women can now undergo cervical cancer screening once every five years with a single test, according to new guidelines released today from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).
The updated cervical cancer screening guidelines, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), are similar to the previous guidelines issued in 2012 except for one major change. In 2012, normal-risk women ages 30 to 65 could undergo “cotesting” with a Pap (cytology) test and a test for high-risk human papillomavirus (hrHPV) once every five years. Under the new recommendation, those women can undergo testing with the hrHPV test alone once every five years.
Other options for cervical cancer screening that were recommended in 2012 remain in place, including:
- The first cytology test at age 21
- Cytology testing every three years for women ages 21 to 29
- The option of a cytology test with the hrHPV test once every five years for women ages 30 to 65
- The option of a cytology test alone once every three years for women ages 30 to 65
“The current USPSTF recommendation statement preserves the greatest range of choices for practitioners and patients; in that sense, both will benefit,” said Lee A. Learman, MD, PhD, of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, and Francisco A.R. Garcia, MD, MPH, of the College of Public Health at the University of Arizona in Tucson, in an editorial accompanying the guidelines.
Traditional Screening Methods
The traditional cervical cancer screening cytology test (known as the Pap test) has been in use for 75 years. The test examines the cells of the cervix for abnormalities. But in more recent years, a test has emerged that looks for infection with high-risk strains of a sexually transmitted virus called human papillomavirus (HPV).
Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV infection, according to the National Cancer Institute. There are about 12 high-risk HPV types.
The recommendation to allow some women to undergo just the hrHPV test alone was listed as “grade A” by the task force, meaning scientific evidence shows the prevention intervention has a significant impact, says task force vice chair Douglas K. Owens, MD, a general internist and associate director of the Center for Innovation to Implementation at the Veterans Affairs, Palo Alto Health Care System in California.
The new option of having the hrHPV test alone is based on research that shows cotesting did not improve the effectiveness of testing.
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