Should the HPV Test Replace the Pap Smear?

The HPV tests screens for HPV. So, is the Pap smear needed?

Should the HPV test replace the Pap smear? Some medical professionals think it should.

I, however, am just a woman with a vagina and a cervix, and I think these medical professionals are totally wrong.

The HPV test specifically screens for human papilloma virus, a virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer. The Pap smear, a widely-used test that screens for abnormal cells, doesn’t specifically screen for HPV, though. Because the Pap smear doesn’t screen for HPV, two medical groups are saying that “could replace the Pap smear with a different test to screen many women for cervical cancer.”

Here are the reasons some medical groups are supporting the primary use of the HPV test:

– Pap smears could miss some cancer and pre-cancer in women.
– The HPV test exceeds the Pap smear when used to find cancer.

However, not every woman who gets HPV will get cancer. HPV is an incredibly common virus that most people will get if they are sexually active. So, screening for HPV could potentially put many women through sometimes painful and costly tests that are basically not needed:

“In many cases, an infection with the virus is just temporary; it quickly disappears without causing any problems. If lots of women start getting tested for HPV,” Diana Zuckerman, the head of the National Center for Health Research, says, “many women will end up getting expensive, painful and possibly harmful follow-up tests they never really needed.”

Zuckerman thinks this test would confuse patients and physicians, and cause patients a lot of un-needed stress. Also: HPV isn’t the only cause of cervical cancer. Some women who develop cervical cancer don’t have the virus.

Now, I’m obviously not a physician (I’m just a writer), but I agree with Zuckerman. I’ve known women who had cervical cancer scares and didn’t have HPV. I’ve also known plenty of women who have had HPV and have never got cancer. To me, it makes sense to continue using both tests.

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Image: Ed Uthman

Abbie Stutzer

Writer, editor, and owner of Ginchy!, a freelance writing and editing company, and home funeral hub. Adores smart sex ed, sustainable ag, spooky history, women's health, feminism, horror, wine, and sci-fi.