New HPV Testing Creates Change in Screening Guidelines

The recent development of a test for human papilloma virus (HPV) has created a change in national recommendations for routine Pap smears for women. Women’s Care has changed its guidelines in accordance with those recommendations.

The Pap smear has been part of annual gynecological exams in the U.S. since the 1950s. During the Pap smear procedure, the physician collects cells from the cervix to detect cancer or abnormal cells that may lead to cancer. The test can also find non-cancerous conditions, such as infection and inflammation.

Since the advent of the HPV test, the same specimen that is taken for the Pap smear is also tested for HPVs. HPVs are a group of more than 100 viruses. Some types cause the common warts that grow on hands and feet. More than 30 types of HPV can be passed from one person to another through sexual contact. While some of these sexually transmitted HPVs cause wart-like growths on the genitals, they don’t lead to cancer. About 15 sexually transmitted HPVs are considered high-risk because they’re more likely to lead to the development of cancer. If a woman tests positive for the HPV virus, we know that we will need to monitor the patient through more frequent screenings.

HPV infection is the primary risk factor for cervical cancer. About 6 million new genital HPV infections occur each year in the U.S. Although HPV infection is very common, only a very small percentage of women with HPV infections develop cervical cancer.

Screening Guidelines

Here are the new Women’s Care guidelines for routine Pap smears and HPV tests:

  • Annual Pap smears beginning with sexual activity until age 30.
  • At age 30, start testing for HPV in tandem with Pap smears.
  • If both tests are negative, it’s OK to test once every three years.
  • If the HPV test is positive, continue annual Pap smears.
  • Women who have had a hysterectomy don’t need a Pap test unless the surgery was done as a treatment for pre-cancer or cancer.Be sure to speak with your Women’s Care physician if you have questions about the new guidelines, or about any aspect of your health care.