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HPV-smear screening will not identify cancer risk

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Plans to add a test for the human papillomavirus (HPV) to cervical smears would not help doctors identify women at risk of cancer, experts have claimed.

The project, which sees women with “borderline” or mild abnormality sample results - suggesting cervical cells could develop into cancer in the future - also tested for HPV, is being trialled at six laboratories across the UK.

But a study by the Medical Research Council found that 70% of women testing positive for HPV after a smear did not develop cancer during a three-year follow-up, casting doubt upon the claim that the extra examination helps reduce cancer risk and helps decide on the best course of treatment.

Dr Maggie Cruickshank, one of the authors of the investigation, said: “Of the women who actually needed treatment for pre-cancerous disease over the course of the study, 91 out of 393 (23%) had a negative HPV test at the start of the trial.”

Responding to the claims, Julietta Patnick, director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said the trial relied on old tests which were less accurate than newer methods.

Around eight out of 10 sexually-active women will contract HPV at some point in their lives.

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