The FDA approval of primary human papillomavirus (HPV) testing will provide doctors one more tool to use in cervical cancer screening, a health routine responsible for saving countless lives. As the largest organization of doctors specializing in the treatment of women's cancers, including cervical cancer, the Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO) welcomes new options for detecting and preventing this terrible disease. We also are aware that the approval has raised a number of questions about how HPV testing will be used and whether the Pap test will continue to play a role in cervical cancer screening.
Primary HPV testing does not replace the Pap test, and it is extremely unlikely that doctors will stop using the Pap any time soon. FDA approval of primary HPV testing means the HPV test can be used first when screening a woman for cervical cancer. The two tests screen for cervical cancer in different ways. The HPV test detects the presence of the HPV types responsible for most cervical cancer, and can help identify women at high risk for developing cervical cancer. The Pap test finds pre-cancer and cancer. Having more options for using each of these tests gives doctors more flexibility in choosing the best screening strategy for each individual patient.
SGO and other organizations are developing an interim guidance document to help health care professionals determine how to best incorporate primary HPV testing into cervical cancer screening. In the meantime, current guidelines for when to use the HPV test remain in effect -- when Pap test results are inconclusive and in women age 30 and older in combination with a Pap test.
Women should discuss with their doctors the best cervical cancer screening option for them. We also urge parents to have their daughters and sons vaccinated against the HPV virus. The vaccine is safe and effective and perhaps the best tool yet in preventing cervical cancer.
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