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Health TrendsTM study: cervical cancer

Health Trends study from Quest Diagnostics reveals cotesting is a more sensitive cervical cancer screening test for women 30 and older than HPV testing alone

For many years, cervical cancer was the leading cause of cancer-related deaths for women in the United States, ahead of breast cancer. With the increasing prevalence of Pap tests and testing for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), cervical cancer rates have significantly declined1. However, in recent years, a debate has emerged in the medical community about the benefit of cotesting (HPV plus Pap together) versus HPV alone (sometimes called HPV primary), leaving patients and many clinicians confused about what is the best path to monitor their cervical health.

What is Cotesting?

During the exam, cells from the cervix are collected and sent to the laboratory. A Pap test is performed, which is examining the cells collected on a prepared slide to determine if abnormal cells are present. In addition, from that same specimen, a Human Papillomavirus test (HPV) is performed on automated equipment to identify if the virus is present. Certain types of HPV (high-risk types) are known to be associated with cancers and high-grade precancers, so with co-testing, physicians get information on both the health of the cells collected, and will know if high-risk types of HPV are detected. The combination of the information from these two tests is what is so important in understanding a woman’s risks of developing cervical cancer.

Cotesting versus HPV Testing Alone

Health Trends™ study from researchers at Quest Diagnostics and The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), provides new evidence that the cotesting approach identifies more women who have or will develop cervical pre-cancer and cancer than either test, HPV or Pap, ordered alone and provides the most reassurance to women.

The study found that in women 30 years of age or older:

  • HPV alone and Pap alone miss twice as many women who developed cervical cancers as cotesting.
  • Cotesting detected more women who develop precancers than HPV or Pap alone
  • HPV tests alone fail to detect one in five women who are diagnosed with cancers within a year of the test performed.
  • Cotesting detected more women who develop adenocarcinomas, a typically aggressive cancer that has been on the rise for decades, than HPV or Pap alone.

The study’s findings add to prior research demonstrating that cotesting is the most sensitive method for the identification of precancer and cancer of the cervix. In addition, the study is significant because it is the largest to date to examine testing methods in a national, diverse population of women in the United States, involving de-identified results of nearly 19 million tests. It provides compelling support for guidelines and statements that affirm cotesting for women ages 30-65 years from the United States Preventative Taskforce, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology.

Protecting Your Cervical Health – Talk to Your Healthcare Practitioner about Cervical Cancer Screening

Cervical cancer screening is recommended to occur regularly for women ages 21 to 65, and the recommendations for frequency of the screens is included in the guidelines mentioned above but is also dependent on your doctor and your medical record. However, if you are experiencing any gynecological symptoms, you should schedule an exam sooner. It is important to have open discussions with your healthcare practitioners. Regular cervical cancer screening greatly improves the chances of early detection and prevention of cervical cancer.

To learn more, read the press release or the full study.