Two recent studies from the Journal of the American Medical Association suggest that an existing test for human papillomavirus (HPV) could replace the Pap smear as a cancer screen in women over the age of 35.
The authors of a study conducted in South Africa noted that over half of the U.S.’s cervical cancer patients had not been screened within the last 3 years, and indicate that access to Pap smear cancer screening in developing nations is extremely limited. The HPV test is done on self-administered swabs from the cervix, while the Pap smear is conducted on cells scraped from the cervix by a health care provider.
While researchers noted that the HPV test can produce more false positives than the Pap smear, they stressed the ease and wider accessibility of the HPV test. The use of the HPV test as a cancer screen could dramatically lower the death rates from cervical cancer in regions where pelvic examinations along with the Pap smear are unavailable.