A new paper published in the Lancet (03 November) suggests that primary HPV screening provides greater protection against invasive cervical cancer compared to cytology-based screening (smear test).
Cytology-based screening is when the cells taken during the test are examined under a microscope to detect changes whilst HPV-based screening initially tests for the presence of HPV, which can in some cases cause the abnormalities in the cervix which can precede cancer.
The Italian researchers analysed data from four major European trials in England, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden which compared HPV-based screening with cytology-based screening. They calculated that HPV-based screening protected 60-70% more women from invasive cervical cancer than did cytology-based screening.
Dr Clare McKenzie, Vice President Education, at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said:
"This is an interesting paper as it shows how primary HPV testing may be effective in reducing cancer and adds to the great deal of research conducted over the last 5-10 years. Previous data had demonstrated effectiveness in reducing CIN, the precursor lesion.
"The NHS Cervical Screening Programme is currently running a pilot to see if HPV primary screening should be used throughout the whole of the cervical screening programme in England and we await the results.
"Cervical cancer is a preventable disease and preventative methods like cervical screening along with early detection are key to reducing the impact of this disease for women.
"Meanwhile we continue to urge women to go for their smear test when notified by their GP as this has been shown to be the most effective way to help prevent cervical cancer."
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The full paper can be found here.