March 20, 2012 | by City of Hope Staff
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released new guidelines for cervical cancer screening that may make it easier for more women to keep on top of their health. Instead of getting a Pap smear every year, many women may be able to go three years — and sometimes up to five years — between cervical cancer screenings.
The task force already had recommended that women ages 21 to 65 receive a Pap test every three years. New guidelines indicate that women ages 30 to 65 can safely go five years between screenings if they receive a test for the human papillomavirus, or HPV, in addition to the Pap test.
The recommendations grew out of research that linked infection with HPV to the development of cervical cancer. There are many strains of the virus, but two — HPV16 and HPV18 — are responsible for 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases.
City of Hope’s Sharon Wilczynski, M.D., Ph.D., chief of anatomic pathology, conducted extensive research into HPV that helped establish its link to cervical cancer. She says that most women and men are infected by HPV at some point in their lives, but they clear the virus from the body relatively quickly. Some women, though, develop a persistent infection that, over time, can lead to cervical cancer.
HPV research led to the development of a way to test for infection and a vaccine, which led to better ways for women managing their health. With HPV also being linked to a rise in mouth and throat cancers, additional research may improve outcomes in all HPV-related cancers.