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Wednesday, 8 May, 2002, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
Thumbs up for extra cancer test
Cancer smear
Four million women are screened on the NHS each year
The lives of thousands of women could be saved every year if doctors tested patients for a sexually transmitted disease when screening for cervical cancer, a study suggests.

Doctors in the US have found that testing for the human papillomavirus (HPV) at the same time as carrying out a routine Pap smear could help to identify many more women with cancer.

HPV is a sexually transmitted virus and is considered one of the leading causes of cervical cancer.

NHS officials are currently examining whether women should be tested for the virus as part of their routine screening. However, it is not yet offered nationally.

We would like to look at the cost effectiveness of this

NHS Cancer Screening Programme spokeswoman
But writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, doctors said such a policy could help to reduce deaths from cervical cancer by as much as 59%.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women under the age of 35. Each year, there are over 3,200 new cases in the UK.

Doctors at Georgetown University used a computer model to examine how effective a HPV and Pap test would be for women.

They found that using both tests together would detect an additional 225 patients with cancer for every 100,000 women screened.

Previous studies have suggested that Pap smears fail to identify a large number of precancers or cancers.

"For years, Pap smears have been the standard of care in screening for cervical cancer," the authors said.

"What we have found is that adding an HPV test upfront not only increases cancer detection rate, it is also cost-effective to do so."

NHS screening

Women between the ages of 20 and 64 are called for cervical screening every three to five years as part of the NHS national screening programme.

Officials are currently piloting HPV testing as part of the screening programme at three sites in Bristol, Newcastle and Norwich.

A spokeswoman said: "The pilots are due to finish in 2003 after which they will be evaluated. We expect the results to be known in 2004."

She added: "We would certainly be interested in the results of this study. We examine four million smears a year. We would like to look at the cost effectiveness of this."

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