Testing for human papillomavirus as part of cervical screening reduces the number of women unnecessarily going on for further tests by over a third, according to a study by the Institute of Cancer Research.
Researchers looked at over 10,000 women aged 25-64 who were part of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme and whose first smear test had shown mild or borderline abnormalities in the cervix.
The screening samples were then tested for HPV. The results showed around 35% were HPV negative and were able to return to routine screening. Women with a positive HPV test result were then referred for a colposcopy without having to go through further smear tests.
The authors said: “Our study shows that adding HPV testing significantly reduces the number of women sent for more invasive tests, when in fact they do not have any serious cervical changes.”
The study analysed the first phase roll-out of HPV testing for borderline or mildly abnormal cytology tests, which began in 2007 at six laboratories in England.
Since April this year, HPV testing has now started to be rolled out nationally as part of the existing NHS Cervical Screening Programme.
Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: “This is a welcome refinement to the highly effective cervical screening programme.
“This change has already saved thousands of women an anxious wait for extra tests and results, and should help lead to a more efficient screening programme.”
- Kelly RS, et al. HPV testing as a triage for borderline or mild dyskaryosis on cervical cytology: results from the Sentinel Sites study. British Journal of Cancer. September 2011 105, 983-988.