Researchers at two Canadian universities found that using HPV testing was more accurate at detecting cervical precancers than the traditional PAP smear. If this finding bears out in further investigations, it could eventually mean HPV screening could be the main diagnostic tool for cervical cancer because nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV.
The randomized, controlled study involved 19,009 women (16,374 completed the study) and was conducted by McGill University and the University of British Columbia. About half (8,296) of the women used the HPV test to screen for cervical cancer and the other half (8,078) used the Pap smear.
At 48 months, the investigators found significantly fewer indicators of pre cervical cancer (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade 2 or worse) among women who underwent HPV testing versus the Pap smear. Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (cervical dysplasia) is usually caused by HPV and can progress to cancer if not treated.
According to Rachel L. Winer, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington who is affiliated with the University’s HPV research group (but who was not part of the study), these results could lead the way for cervical cancer screening to reach women who are underserved or who have not been screened. Currently, nearly one third of women ages 30 to 64 have not been screened or don’t get screened regularly.