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HPV Test Beats Pap Smear for Women Over 40

It's a better cervical cancer screen, research suggests

FRIDAY, Nov. 3, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Testing for the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV) is a more effective cervical cancer screening tool than Pap smear for women aged 40 and older, a Danish study finds.

The study concluded that the Pap smear is still better for screening younger women, however.

HPV infection is considered the leading cause of cervical cancer.

The findings from the study of nearly 10,000 women were published in the Nov. 1 issue of Cancer Research.

The researchers said that HPV infection is both frequent and transient in younger women -- meaning that they would often test positive for HPV when they had no actual risk of cervical cancer.

However, in older women, HPV infection is less common and more persistent, which puts them at substantial risk for cancer before changes in cervical cells (which are detected by Pap smears) are obvious, the researchers said.

They found that older women who test positive for HPV have a 20 percent greater risk of cervical cancer within 10 years than older women who don't have HPV. Furthermore, most women who test positive for HPV also test negative on a Pap smear done at the same time.

"Based on these results, we feel that an HPV test would benefit older women, whether or not that test is used in conjunction with Pap smears, or used by itself as an initial screen," senior author Dr. Susanne Kruger Kjaer, professor and head of the department of virus, hormones and cancer at the Danish Cancer Society, said in a prepared statement.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about cervical cancer.

SOURCE: American Association for Cancer Research, news release, Nov. 1, 2006
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