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New HPV Test May Replace Pap Smear To Detect Cervical Cancer

Update Date: Jan 13, 2017 09:10 AM EST

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and early detection is very important in curbing the potentially-fatal disease. For decades, Pap smears have been used to screen women but now, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) committee has voted to replace it with a new DNA test designed to detect human papilloma virus (HPV), one of the culprits in the development of cervical cancer.

The new test, cobas viral DNA test, detects the presence of HPV 16 and 18, the two strains that are responsible for most of the cervical cancer cases. Manufactured by Roche Molecular Systems, the test is now recommended by the FDA as a co-test with Pap smear, according to a new study.

Currently, both tests are recommended for all women ages 30 and 65 years old every three years, or Pap smear testing alone every three years. However, for women 21 to 30 years old, they are advised to undergo Pap testing every three years, Fox News reports.

HPV And Cervical Cancer Link

"The human papilloma virus (HPV) causes almost all cases of cervical cancer, which is a common sexually transmitted infection," Dr. Bingham-Alexander, an OB/GYN at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital in Cortlandt Manor, explained as reported by Lohud, part of USA Today.

"There are two types of HPV: low-risk type HPV (non-cancer associated type) and high-risk type HPV (cancer-associated type)," he added.

Aside from cervical cancer, HPV has been linked to other cancers such as vulva, vaginal and anal cancers. Low-risk cases, however, often manifest as benign genital warts. Genital HPV infection is very common and can persist for years, but very few women infected with the virus develop cervical cancer.

Preventing Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer cases plummeted over the past several years thanks to early detection and prevention of the disease. Since annual Pap smear tests were introduced in the 1950s, the cases of cervical cancer, which was once the number one cancer in women, has dramatically decreased.

However, despite the decline in reported cases, preventing and curbing the disease are still important today.

"Today, we know cervical cancer can be prevented with proper screening to find pre-cancers before they develop into invasive cancer," Dr. Bill Cook, an OB/GYN physician, said as reported by the Corsicana Daily Sun.

"If a pre-cancer is found, it can be treated, stopping cervical cancer before it really starts," he added.

HPV vaccines have been deemed helpful in preventing cervical cancer too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), young women and men should receive HPV vaccination at 11 or 12 years age to provide the best protection long before the start of any sexual activity.

Boosters or catch-up vaccines are recommended for males through age 21 and for females through 26 years of age. In women, the vaccine may help protect against two HPB types that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.

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