A new recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggests HPV tests can replace many pap smears.
“Most cervical cancer is caused by what’s called the human papillomavirus, or HPV,” says Dr. Douglas Owens, a professor of medicine at Stanford University and vice chair of the USPSTF. “And we now have tests for HPV and that’s an important step forward.”
These tests are available alone or in combination with the Pap test. And the USPSTF now says the evidence is strong enough that HPV tests can be used by themselves, for women over 30. That third choice expands on the task force’s previous recommendation, which was for the Pap test or the combination [of pap and HPV] test.
Pap smears are still the recommended method for those 21 to 29, said the USPSTF.
While you should get a pap every three years, you only need an HPV test every five years. Said Owens: “Five years is a good balance between the benefits and harms,” adding, “It’s still highly effective at detecting cancer, and screening more frequently than that may increase some of the potential harms, so we think that’s a good interval.” And in fact, after several deaths from cervical cancers that were caught late, Ireland switched to the HPV test rather than the pap.
Unfortunately, the samples are collected the same way, so you’re still getting your cervix gently scraped by a medical professional. But [mom voice] it’s important, so don’t forget to make the appointment.