Pap smears will eventually be a thing of the past, according to a Canadian study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The study found that DNA tests for human papillomavirus (HPV) are nearly twice as effective as the standard Pap smear for screening cervical cancer (94% vs. 55%). The DNA test is still sorta like the Pap in that it involves a pelvic exam and collecting a sample of cells from the cervix, so it's still a little invasive. But the good news is that because the DNA screening is so much more accurate, we won't need to do it as often. The other thing is that the DNA test, when it eventually makes its way here, will only be for women 30 and over because "HPV infection in younger women usually disappears on its own, so testing those under 30 would lead to many false positives."
Another thing is that the DNA HPV test picked up far more cervical pre-cancers than the Pap smear. However, the DNA test doesn't discern between the types of HPV, so if someone tests positive, she then needs further testing to find out exactly what she has. Unfortunately, Gardasil, the HPV vaccine, only protects against the 2 out of the 70 types that cause cervical cancer, so women still need to be screened for it. So far, the only downside of DNA testing for HPV is that there is a high rate of false positives that would lead to additional testing. However, this seems like a pretty decent trade-off.