What is involved in cancer screening?

The Cytology-based Pap smear entails searching for cancer or precancer cells by performing a test on cells that are taken from the lower end of a woman’s uterus known as cervix.

Cytology or cytopathology is a term used to refer to the process of diagnosing diseases just by looking at single cells and small clusters of cells.

Cervical cancer and HPV

Apart from cancer cells, a test can also be carried out on the woman’s cervix to determine the presence of certain high-risk type of HPV that can result into cancers which includes cervical cancer.

Currently, a study that was published in the journal JAMA on Tuesday has a suggestion that cervical HPV testing have greater ability to detect signs of cancer early enough and more effectively as compared to Pap smear over a period of 48 months.

These results constitute parts of the human Papillomavirus for Cervical Cancer Screening trial, which is a publicly funded study from Canada.

There has been a significant evidence that shows that by using the method of HPV testing, it is possible to improve detection of precancerous lesions of the cervix. This is according to Dr. Gina Ogilvie, a professor and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Global Control of HPV in relation to disease and prevention from the University of British Columbia and the lead author of the study.

“So, the results which gathered from this study make us to move to the next step since they clearly show that by using HPV testing only in a screening scenario, after four years, all women who underwent HPV testing had lower chances of developing precancerous lesions,” said Dr. Gina.

He also added that 99% of cancer is caused by the HPV virus and by directing their focus on detecting the virus, they are then better able to determine which women have developed precancerous lesions and then treat them as early as possible.

USPSTF Recommendations on screening intervals

In the year 2017, there were draft recommendations, which were put forth by the US Preventive Services Task Force with the aim of exploring the idea of recommending screening at interval of three years with only cervical cytology in women whose ages are between 21 to 29 years old and then either going on with that test or undergoing screening wit HPV testing alone after every five years, up to the age of 65 years old. There is a final recommendation which is yet to be published. In the year 2012, it was recommended by the task force that screening for cervical cancer with Pap smear should be done on women whose ages fall between 21 and 65 years old, while women whose ages fall between 30 and 65 years old can screen with a combination of cytology and HPV testing after every five years.