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HPV Test Better Predictor for Long-Term Cancer Risk

< Aug. 01, 2012 > -- The human papillomavirus (HPV) test may be better at helping women know their long-term risk for cervical cancer than the more traditional Pap test - but both tests are still important, new research says.

Close-up photo of a woman

The HPV test looks at a sample of cells for bits of DNA from the strains of papillomavirus that cause cervical cancer. The Pap test looks for cell changes on a woman's cervix that may turn into cancer if not treated.

Researchers at Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research and Queen Mary University in London looked at data on nearly 20,000 women in Portland, Ore., who got both tests.

They found that both an abnormal Pap test and an abnormal HPV test predicted which women would get precancerous lesions within two years of testing. But an abnormal HPV test continued to predict which women were at risk for up to 18 years.

Both tests needed

The researchers say the study results emphasize that women should continue to have both tests. "[We wanted] to see how many extra cases of precancer can be discovered by the additional use of HPV DNA testing as compared to routine Pap testing," says study co-author Attila Lorincz, Ph.D., at the London school.

The results also back up recently revised guidelines from the American Cancer Society (ACS) calling for a longer span between normal Pap tests.

According to the new ACS recommendations, the preferred screening for healthy women ages 30 to 65 is to do a Pap and HPV test every five years. Women younger than 30 are often infected with HPV, but clear it spontaneously. That is why the guidelines are for women 30 and older.

With additional research into the two tests, the guidelines may eventually suggest that the HPV test replace the Pap test entirely, the researchers say.

Both tests are usually covered at least in part by health insurance. The typical cost for each test is $40 to $70, Dr. Lorincz says.

The study was published in this week's edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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What Is HPV?

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S., with more than 20 million Americans currently infected, according to the CDC.

HPV is most common in women and men in their late teens and early 20s. HPV is so common that at least half of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their life. Learning about HPV can help you avoid infection and seek treatment, if necessary.

Many types of HPV infection have no symptoms. For some types of HPV, the most visible symptoms are genital warts, which show up on the penis and around or inside the anus in men, and on the vulva, around or inside the anus, inside the vagina, and on the cervix in women. HPV warts are usually small, flesh-colored, and flat or bumpy growths. They appear alone or in clusters. They don't often cause pain but may cause itching. Warts inside the vagina or anus or on the cervix aren't visible and may not cause any symptoms.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Cancer Society - Cervical Cancer: Prevention and Early Detection

FDA - HPV (Human Papillomavirus)

Journal of Clinical Oncology - Clinical Human Papillomavirus Detection Forecasts Cervical Cancer Risk in Women Over 18 Years of Follow-Up