A little overzealous with HPV testing

young women and a guy

Doctors are testing women for human papillomavirus (HPV) way more than guidelines dictate according to a new study. It leads to a waste of resources and unnecessary treatment for women.

Many doctors are now doing HPV tests alongside Pap smears. Any positive result, especially for women under 30 years, tells doctors very little about the specific type of HPV. Very few types of HPV lead to cancer so treating these women aggressively is unnecessary and expensive. “There’s a much greater emphasis on avoiding a single cancer versus literally thousands of women being over-screened and over-treated,” said Philip Castle, an HPV expert at the American Society for Clinical Pathology in Chicago who contributed to the research.

There are 40 different kinds of HPV. At least half of all sexually active people will contract HPV at some point in their lives. While the virus can’t be cured, it often clears up on its own.

More than half of the doctors surveyed for the research said they regularly order HPV tests alongside a Pap smear in women under 30. This is not recommended by the American Cancer Society and other organizations. Additionally a third of the doctors use “high risk” and “low risk” tests. The low risk HPV analysis indicates nothing about the cancer causing HPV. According to Castle, “The low risk test really has no business being on the market at all.” It is useless.

For women under 30: “Cancer is really rare in that group,” Castle emphasized. Routine testing in that age group could lead to aggressive treatments that simply aren’t necessary or helpful.

“There’s a lot of HPV and very little disease,” he said. “And the disease that’s found there is generally about 10 to 15 years away from becoming invasive. There’s no good justification for using the HPV test routinely.”

Source: Obstetrics and Gynecology, Reuters


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