HPV Testing is not Sufficient for Cancer Detection

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Munich (dpa/tmn) Experts say HPV (Human Papillomavirus) testing, which is often offered at women's clinics as a self-pay service, is not enough to determine the risk of cervical cancer in women. A pap smear test is more exact.

The HPV test only confirms whether a woman carries the virus, which is the cause of most cases of cervical cancer. It does not confirm illness or predict future illness. In more than 90 percent of the cases, an infection is no longer detectable after an average of 13 months, explained Christian Albring of the Professional Association of Gynaecologists (BVF) in Munich. This is because the body's immune system clears HPV naturally within that time. Therefore, the positive predictive value of the test lies at 10 percent.

The pap smear, which is done during the annual examination for early detection of cancer at the cost of one's health insurance, is of more significance. According to Albring, during cell analysis, 7 out of 10 women who have shown suspicious cell changes have in fact, a cervical disease requiring treatment. The BVF president cites recent research from Australia, where the positive predictive value of the pap smear is more than 70 percent.

HPV is transmitted by skin to skin contact through vaginal, anal and oral sex with a partner who already has HPV. If infected, signs and symptoms may take weeks, months and even years to appear. Symptoms may never appear.

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