New Attraction – Cervical Cancer Screen – HPV Test
Cervical cancer has been one of womankind’s most lethal banes, and fortunately for decades now, the Pap test has stepped in its way. Now here comes the latest in cervical cancer screens: the HPV test. With results far more reliable than the average Pap, the HPV test has elicited not a few second looks from doctors. A look at the new kid in oncology town.
HPV test vs. the Pap
HPV or the human papillomavirus is the main culprit of cervical cancer. Women can get any of 100 HPV strains, 40 of which are contracted through sexual intercourse. The worst of these strains trigger malignant tumors in the cervix.
Since the 1940s, gynecologists and obstetricians have been identifying HPV viruses through the Pap. This practice certainly had a long foresight, for it hacked US cervical cancer cases to just 11,270 in 2009.
However, the Pap is not without lapses. One Pap test may not detect all malignant cervical growths in a patient; on occasion, it takes two tests to know for sure. Likewise, the Pap can mistake otherwise normal cervical tissue changes for cancerous growths.
It is markedly different with the HPV test. Once you test positive in the HPV test, you most certainly have an active HPV somewhere. Better yet, the HPV tests zero in on two strains largely responsible for triggering cervical cancer.
In a study of Indian women aged 30 to 59, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the National Cancer Institute found that an HPV test done 15 – 20 years after the first sexual intercourse could accurately detect cervical cancer.
Even so, there is no such thing as an error-free cervical cancer test. Yet the HPV test, when used in combination with the Pap, can produce 99.84 percent accurate results, according to several studies from the US and Europe.
This combo has been endorsed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for 30-year old women and above. The FDA specifically recommends this to women who went through Pap tests, only to be told that their results are vague. Known in oncology parlance as ASCUS, such test results are given to three million American women every year.
Much as you want a healthy lifestyle, you need not subject yourself to a yearly Pap test. Medical organizations encourage women to get a Pap test only every three years, more frequently for high-risk people. During this interval, the body can clear an abnormal growth even when left untreated. If you are not at high risk for cervical cancer, better wait up. You would not want the doctor to subject you to unnecessary, expensive procedures.
Pap test = negative, HPV test = positive
Notwithstanding its perceived reliability, a positive HPV test does not always mean you have cervical cancer. To be sure, you need to take the more implacable HPV 16/18 test, which can rule out HPV’s cancer-causing strains. If you still test positive, then you would have to undergo colposcopy, wherein the doctor inserts a tubular microscope in you to get a view of the cervix and get tissue samples.
If it’s the other way around – you checked negative in the HPV test, positive in the Pap – then this is the time you should get multiple Pap tests in one year.
If you checked negative from both HPV and Pap tests, then you are clear for the next three years at least. Even if you catch the HPV virus the day after the tests, chances are you would not raise your risk of getting cervical cancer until your late 50s. Therefore, a one-two punch of the HPV/Pap test may just be what you need to put your worries to rest.
In spite of it all, the resistance to change is great among doctors. Only an estimated 15 percent of them are warming to the new HPV test. It appears that they need more proof about the test’s effectiveness in detecting cervical cancer.
Some doctors find it difficult to conduct the HPV test because they still use old Pap smear technology, which is still effective. The HPV test is almost always paired with the newer liquid Pap technology. As it goes, an HPV test only needs the fluid remaining from a liquid Pap test. With older Pap tests, the doctor would need another smear to conduct an HPV test.
Consumers may not be prepared to shoulder the cost of an HPV test. At $100, the HPV test would seem like an unnecessary luxury. To date, only seven states (West Virginia, Texas, Oregon, North Carolina, New Mexico, Maryland and California) cover HPV tests.
Some doctors are just downright unaware. If you find your doctor still in the dark about HPV testing, speak up. Sometimes it takes a patient to enlighten a doctor about new technologies. Probe him if he or she is oblivious to HPV testing or just plain indifferent. The fight against cervical cancer is on a roll, and you cannot afford to lose out on the benefits of HPV tests.