Bottom line on cervical cancer screenings: More testing needed

October 27, 2011 | by City of Hope Staff

Questions swirl around recommendations for various cancer screenings these days, and now a panel of health experts has added cervical cancer to the mix.

Even though many doctors test for human papillomavirus, or HPV, as part of the routine women’s exams they provide, the U.S. Preventive Services said on Monday that there’s insufficient evidence to recommend these tests for woman age 30 or older. The HPV test checks whether a woman is carrying risky forms of the virus that cause most cases of cervical cancer.

The panel indicated that younger women are frequently positive for HPV and may undergo invasive procedures that remove cervical tissue. These procedures can potentially cause trouble with child-bearing later. Evidence shows that Pap tests are still best for finding cervical cancer.

Mark Wakabayashi, M.D., M.P.H., chief of gynecologic oncology at City of Hope Mark Wakabayashi, M.D., M.P.H.

But the questions obscure an important issue, says Mark Wakabayashi, M.D., M.P.H., chief of gynecologic oncology at City of Hope.

As he told U.S.News.com, many women are getting no tests at all, especially the underserved. “About half of all cervical cancers are diagnosed in women who have had no screening, or who have not had a screening in the previous five years,” he said.

National experts agree that women should have their first Pap smear at the age of 21, not earlier. More information is available online about who should be tested and how often.

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