by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted October 22, 2007 in DNA Testing
Two recent studies have shown that the human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA test is more accurate than the traditional Pap smear for cervical cancer.
The HPV DNA test detected 95% of cases in which participants had precancerous changes in the cervix
The Pap test detected 55% of cases.
The HPV DNA test had a false positive rate of 6%
The Pap test had a false positive rate of 3%
When I first saw this news, I breathed a sigh of relief that perhaps sometime soon I would be able to skip regular pelvic exams and cervical cell sampling.
That would be wrong.
According to Lab Tests Online, the HPV DNA test still requires a sample of cells from the cervix. It is NOT a blood test. I emphasize this point because most of the news I’ve seen either got it wrong or didn’t clarify the testing procedure. For most people, DNA tests still mean a blood test even though DNA can be extracted from other samples, such as the ubiquitous cheek swab.
Currently, the HPV DNA test is used in combination with the traditional pap smear. However, recent studies have shown that HPV testing may be used alone and make it possible for women to prolong the time between exams.
One drawback to the HPV DNA test is cost; it is $90 compared to a $10 to $20 Pap test. Also, even girls vaccinated against HPV will need to be screened because there is more than one cancer causing strain not covered by the vaccine.
For more and a video news report, see CBS News.
Photo: HPV infection in squamous cells from Wellcome Images under Creative Commons
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