According to a new study published in the British Journal of Cancer, including testing for the human papillomavirus (HPV) in cervical screenings reduces over a third of further pointless tests for women.

The results are from the primary assessment, led by The Institute of Cancer Research, of the ‘Sentinel sites’ project, which aims to make HPV testing part of routine cervical screening.

More than 10,000 women, aged between 25 and 64 years who participated in NHS Cervical Screening Program and whose initial smear test had revealed mild or borderline abnormalities in the cervix, were examined in the investigation.

The researchers then tested the smear tests for HPV, they discovered that approximately 35% (3,581) tested negative for HPV and could resume to routine screening. Those who tested positive for HPV underwent a colposcopy (internal examination) and had no more smear tests.

HPV causes the majority of cervical cancers. However, this does not mean that most females with HPV develop the disease – they don’t.

Author Dr Sue Moss, explained:

“Our study shows that adding HPV testing significantly reduces the number of women sent for more invasive tests, when in fact they do not have any serious cervical changes.”

The initial phase of testing for HPV in women whose cytology tests were borderline or mildly abnormal started in 2007 in 6 laboratories across England, and were analyzed in this study.

The authors said their study provides valuable insight into the effectiveness of the NHS Cervical Screening program, by including HPV tests in the process at a national level. As of April the year HPV testing has been included as part of the current NHS Cervical Screening Program.

Due to variations in how mild or borderline changes and HPV test results are interpreted, the total number of women who will subsequently have to undergo a colposcopy will vary from lab-to-lab, the study highlighted.

Health information director at Cancer Research UK, Sara Hiom, stated:

“This is a welcome refinement to the highly effective cervical screening programme. This change has already saved thousands of women an anxious wait for extra tests and results, and should help lead to a more efficient screening programme.”

Professor Julietta Patnick CBE, director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said:

“The NHS Cancer Screening Programmes is very pleased indeed with the results from the Sentinel Site project. The use of HPV testing that this paper reports is currently being incorporated into the screening programme nationwide and will be fully rolled out within the next year.

By incorporating HPV testing into our current screening programme in this way, we will be able to significantly reduce the number of repeat cytology tests required and to target our colposcopy services more effectively. This is an important development in our programme enabling us to screen women more effectively and efficiently, reducing unnecessary procedures and minimising any associated anxiety.”

Written by Grace Rattue