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Doctors Told to Use HPV Test to Detect Cervical Cancer

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A new report questions the effectiveness of the Pap test, the go-to method for detecting cervical cancer for the past six decades.

A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee report now shows that a new test for HPV — or human papillomavirus — should be the first measure taken in screening for cervical cancer.

HPV is the cause of virtually all cervical cancers. The new test can detect HPV DNA, while the Pap test looks for abnormal squamous cells that may indicate the early development of cervical cancer. Both tests involve a vaginal swab.

For generations the Pap test has been relied upon for detecting cervical cancer. However, the FDA now supports the new DNA-based test, which has been developed by Roche Molecular Systems, a Switzerland-based healthcare company.

Columbia University Medical Center gynecology and pathology expert Dr. Thomas Wright Jr. says this is an important step in the fight against cervical cancer.

“Every year, 12,000 women are diagnosed in the U.S. with cervical cancer,” Wright Jr. said. “This is especially tragic because cervical cancer is a largely preventable disease, and it is well established that HPV is the cause of almost all cervical cancers worldwide. Women need better access to screening tools that include primary HPV screening in order to reduce their risk of developing cervical cancer.”

Still, the FDA’s report won’t kill the Pap test, which can still be administered if a doctor and patient feel it’s the best method in testing for cervical cancer.

However, it’s likely the FDA’s report will sway many physicians, and in turn patients, to make the switch to Roche’s DNA test.

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