HPV screening methods

New month, new topic! We are dedicating February to a very important topic, which sometimes does not get enough attention even though it is so common. Wondering what we are talking about? Well, no other than one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, HPV.

In the last weeks we discovered what HPV is, what diseases it can cause and how we can prevent from getting an infection.

But undergoing regular checkups is important as well. Curious what the currently available screening methods are?

Let’s find out!

HPV stands for Human papillomavirus and it is one of the most common dermatologic and sexually transmitted infections. Almost every sexually active person will get infected with HPV at one point during their life.

Currently, over 200 types of HPV have been discovered. Only a few are considered high risk and potentially cancerous. HPV can be classified based on its risk of developing various conditions such as genital warts or cancer:

  • High risk: 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59, 68, 73, 82

  • Probable high risk: 26, 53, 66

  • Low-risk: 6, 11, 40, 42, 43, 44, 54, 61, 70, 72, 81

Since 1941, when Dr. Papanicolau published his work on the pap smear, this screening method for cervical cancer has had a significant impact on lowering the prevalence of morbidity and mortality from HPV cancer related diseases. Along with the development of an HPV test in 1998, cervical cancer has become a disease that can be detected in time and even prevented.

In the US, the rates of cervical cancer declined from 36.3 per 100 000 women in 1930s to 7.32 per 100 000 women in the 1990s. This significant decrease correlates with the implementation of cervical cancer screening methods.

Currently available screening methods for cervical cancer

Pap smear test (Papanicolau test)

  • It is known as cytology testing, as it identifies cervical lesions

  • The test takes place during a gynecological consultation, where a healthcare professional takes a sample of cells from the cervix and sends it to a lab for analysis

  • The optimal screening protocol for cervical cancer identifies cervical lesions when treatment can cure the disease, while limiting the overtreatment

  • The sensitivity of pap smear for detecting precancerous or cancerous lesions is up to 53%, meaning that almost half of women tested can receive a false positive or a false negative diagnostic

  • This false positive results can lead to treatments that are not needed

  • The pap smear collection should not be done during menstruation, shower, sexual intercourse

  • Use of tampons, local contraception or other vaginal products should be avoided 48 hours before undergoing a pap smear test

HPV (Human papillomavirus) testing

  • Detects the infections with the human papillomavirus that, if left untreated, could lead to genital warts or HPV related cancers

  • The test takes place during a gynecological consultation, where a healthcare professional takes a sample of cells from the cervix and sends it to a lab for analysis

  • Currently, more than 100 different HPV testing methods are available in the US and Europe

  • In 2014, the FDA approved the use of HPV tests alone for a primary cervical cancer screening

  • The HPV screening tests for the presence of the virus, whereas the pap smear detects abnormal changes of the cervical tissue. Since it is proven that the human papillomavirus is responsible for 95% of cervical cancers, many countries start using the HPV test as a primary screening method

  • In the decades to come, studies suggest that HPV testing will become the standard method for cervical cancer screening in both developing and developed countries