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Cervical cancer: KCE supports HPV test for better screening

A screening process based on detecting the human papillomavirus (HPV test) would work better than the current Pap smear (also called Pap-test) to protect women over 30 against cervical cancer, according to a press release from KCE (Belgian Healthcare Knowledge Centre). Cervical cancer screening currently uses “Pap smears”. The HPV test is only paid for by the state when further examination is necessary as a result of a woman’s Pap smear showing abnormalities.

Specifically, the Pap smear detects pre-cancerous cells. “These cells generally appear 10 to 15 years before the onset of an invasive cancer. Lesions can therefore be dealt with locally, very easily and quickly,” explains KCE.  The test is recommended for women aged 25 to 64, every 3 to 5 years.

In Belgium, only 60% of women get tested, deplores KCE, adding that many of the women who do get tested, do so too often. However, based on research led jointly by Institut Scientifique de Sante Publique (Scientific Institute for Public Health) and Registre du Cancer (Cancer Registry), KCE recommends replacing the Pap smear with the HPV test for women aged 25 to 64, as this test detects the presence of HPV itself, not of precancerous lesions.

“Changing tests should avoid 240 additional cases of cancer and save 96 lives for every 100,000 women screened,” reckons KCE Furthermore, “given that the risk of developing an invasive form of cancer after an HPV test is much smaller than after a Pap smear, it would be perfectly safe to extend the interval between screenings to 5 years” instead of the current 3.

Almost 15 million euros would be saved thanks to this measure which would reduce both the number of screenings, and the number of invasive cancers requiring treatment.

A total of 623 cases of cervical cancer were registered in Belgium in 2011, at an average age of 54 at diagnosis, according to figures by the Cancer Registry.

(Source: Belga)