Is an HPV test necessary if I have a smear test?

November 12, 2012

Is an HPV test necessary if I have a smear test?

The HPV test is reported to be extremely reliable when carried out in addition to a Pap smear test; it is also thought to be more sensitive when detecting any potential abnormalities. The HPV test is not yet regularly carried out along with the Pap smear – despite the limits of the Pap and the benefits of this particular viral test.

The new test

Studies seem to show that most cervical cancers are caused by the HPV infection, where HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus. Over 40 strains of HPV may be transmitted by sexual contact – some may cause warts, some have no symptoms at all. Two strains of HPV are implicated in around 70% of all cervical cancer cases. The HPV test is able to identify these two specific viral strains along with a number of other high risk strains.

Is it all that different from a Pap smear?

The Pap smear test relies on interpretation from a computer or a lab technician who will look for signs of cell abnormalities. The HPV test was originally intended to be carried out on women who had already had an abnormal Pap test result – in the US this number is around three million women.

The success of the HPV test means that it is now recommended as a screening test for all women over the age of thirty, that it is carried out simultaneously with the Pap test and will use the same sample of cervical cells.


Scientists believe that even a single HPV test will significantly reduce the incidence of cervical cancer mortality. A test carried out in women over the age of thirty was found to detect many persistent infections and precancerous cells which were easily treatable.

Is it better than the Pap smear?

The Pap smear test has, since its introduction, reduced the incidence of cervical cancer by around 70%, and yet, it is not without its problems.

  • A single Pap smear can miss as many as half of cell abnormalities – changes do occur extremely slowly and will generally be noted at the next smear test.
  • Increased possibilities of a false reading – changes in cervical tissue go through many changes all of which are not necessarily sinister.

Of course no test is every 100% accurate – but a combination of both the Pap smear and the HPV test does provide an assurance of over 99% when two clear tests are received.

Is a Pap smear test still necessary?

Guidelines regarding the required frequency of Pap smear tests have recently changed – a woman over the aged of thirty who is otherwise healthy and considered to be at low-risk of developing cervical cancer need only be tested every three years if she has had three clear tests in succession. It appears that the tradition of the annual Pap smear test has, in fact, no basis in science. Women in high risk groups include those who smoke, those who have a history of precancerous cells or cervical cancer and those who have a family history of the disease.

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