Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Wednesday, May 5, 1999 Published at 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK


Scientists predict cervical smear revolution

The HPV test can be done using the smear sample

US scientists are predicting a revolution in the prevention of cervical cancer, using a quick test for a virus linked to the disease.

They say that adding the test for the human papillomavirus (HPV) to the cervical smear test means that they can predict more accurately which women are likely to have cancerous or pre-cancerous cells.

Around one in four American women are likely to receive an abnormal smear test result, but as many as 80% will not have cancer.

Usually they have to wait six months and have another smear to confirm if the abnormalities mean they are at risk of developing cancer.

But scientists say that the HPV test is more accurate than the second smear.

And, because it can be done on the same sample as is used for the first smear, women do not have to face the anxiety of a long wait.


The Digene test for HPV was recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, but researchers say it will take a while before it is used widely by doctors.

According to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the test caught more than 89% of seriously precancerous lesions, compared with a 76.2% success rate for the second smear test.

Michele Manos of Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California, tested 995 women with the HPV test.

She said: "We found that if a woman with an ASCUS [abnormal] Pap had a negative HPV results, we could be 99% certain that she did not have cancer."

"Perhaps we have here the beginning of a second revolution in the prevention of cervical cancer."

Most varieties of HPV, which is transmitted through sexual intercourse and is becoming increasingly common among young women in the UK, have been linked to cervical cancer.

But only a handful are thought to cause the disease and the Digene test screens for these.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

19 Feb 99 | Health
Cervical cancer vaccine on the way

05 Feb 99 | Health
Restricting cervical screening could save millions

03 Feb 99 | Aids
HIV+ women in cancer risk

Internet Links

American Medical Association

Cancer Research Campaign


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99