News Tuesday July 5, 2011

Doctors over-testing for HPV, study suggests

A study undertaken in the United States has indicated that doctors are testing too many women unnecessarily for the sexually transmitted infection HPV.

HPV, the human papilloma virus, requires a specific test which can be administered by a doctor in addition to a routine Pap smear for women. Regular pap smears are recommended for women to test for indicators of cervical cancer. Tests for HPV can be costly - a minimum of $30 in the U.S. - and involve looking for the presence of HPV in cells from the cervix.

The study involved a team from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), who analysed the results of a national survey, which included data from doctors and clinics which performed Pap tests. Data was collected from 216 clinics and 376 doctors as part of the survey. The results of the analysis, printed in Obstetrics and Gynecology, showed that as many as three quarters of those surveyed had tested a patient for HPV at least once.

Most significantly, half of these tests were performed on women who were younger than 30 years old. According to medical organisations, including the American Cancer Society, tests for this age group are not recommended because of the rarity of HPV cancers in that group. Though HPV is very common for women under 30, it is not usually the cancer-causing strain of HPV - known as “high-risk” HPV.

Researchers say that this excessive testing for HPV is a wasteful financially and that those who receive positive results will worry unnecessarily and receive treatments that are not necessarily beneficial, and may even lead to adverse side effects. They advise that women should make sure they are fully informed about HPV tests before they visit a doctor.

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