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Cervical cancer screening should target HPV say experts

Recommendations published by the UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) in January 2016 include switching the NHS Cervical Screening Programme to HPV testing as the primary screening method for cervical cancer.

Currently, the NHS Cervical Screening Programme uses cytology testing to look for abnormal cells that could be the first sign of cancer. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) testing is used as a secondary measure in women needing further investigation. However, evidence suggests that screening for HPV first will be a more effective way to let women know whether they are at risk of developing cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under the age of 35, and approximately 3,100 women are diagnosed in the UK every year. Despite a nationwide cervical cancer screening programme that has been in place in the UK since the 1980s, only 66% of younger women and 80% of older women attend screening. If cervical cancer is diagnosed in the early stages, however, up to 90% of women under 40 will survive.

HPV is responsible for over 70% of cervical cancers, and is potentially a key early indicator of cervical cancer risk. In 2015, two new studies published in the journal Gynecologic Oncology found that screening for HPV infection alone provides more accurate results for both HPV infection and cervical cancer screening than the alternatives of a Pap or a co-test for these conditions.

Gordon Wishart, Professor of Cancer Surgery and Medical Director of Check4Cancer, comments: “Traditional smear tests are invasive, require booked appointments and time away from work, and every year a million people choose not to attend to have them. There are now around five million people who have fallen behind with their smear tests, with two years delay being the average. HPV testing is far more user-friendly. Some countries have already switched from traditional smear tests to screening for the HPV virus, and I am delighted that the NHS will follow suit during the coming years. This is the primary test method we have been using at Check4Cancer and GynaeHealth UK – in fact, the HPV test we use is so simple it can be done at home, and so does not even require an appointment.”

The UK National Screening Committee – an independent group of experts – exists to advise ministers and the NHS in the four UK countries about all aspects of population screening and supports implementation of screening programmes.

In its report published on 15 January 2016, following a meeting on 19 November 2015, it made a total of 11 recommendations, which included improvements to existing screening programmes for Down’s syndrome and other related conditions, cervical cancer, bowel cancer and eye screening for people with diabetes.

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