Health Desk--26 August, 2018: Federal health advisers say women can now consider three options when it's time for their cervical cancer screening tests. The influential group, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, has expanded its recommendations for this potentially lifesaving exam.
Pap smears have saved many lives since they became available decades ago. Inspecting samples of cervical tissue for precancerous changes is effective at catching possible cancer and is still the go-to test for women ages 21 to 29, according to the USPSTF guidelines.
But there's another option. "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 test.
The new recommendations are published in the latest issue of JAMA.