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HPV test "not needed in screening"

A team of medical experts has said doctors may not be able to assess the cancer risk to women even if the test for human papillomavirus (HPV) were to be added to cervical screening.

The idea of adding the HPV test to cervical screening had been piloted by the NHS, which carried out research in six laboratories across the UK.

HPV affects around eight out of 10 sexually active women.

An HPV test is normally carried out if a smear test shows mild abnormalities or borderline results.

This means cervical cells could develop into cancer at some point in the future.

New research says adding the HPV test to smear tests does not help doctors identify which women are at risk of cancer or the best form of follow-up treatment.

The study, funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), showed that 70% of women testing positive for HPV after a borderline or mild abnormality smear did not develop cancer during a three-year follow-up.

Dr Maggie Cruickshank, from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Aberdeen and one of the authors of the study, said: "Of the women who actually needed treatment for pre-cancerous disease over the course of the study, 91 out of 393 (23%) had a negative HPV test at the start of the trial."

Julietta Patnick, Director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said the trial relied on old tests which were less accurate than newer methods.

Copyright © Press Association 2010

University of Aberdeen Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology