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Putting the Pap to the Test

May 21, 2002

New research suggests that annual Pap tests, a deeply ingrained habit for many women, are not necessary. Neither is testing as young as 18, an age at which cervical cancer is virtually unheard of. And of women over 65, especially those with a long history of negative tests, appear to gain little from Pap tests as well. Eventually, DNA tests -- either for human papillomavirus (HPV) or abnormal cells -- may replace Pap tests altogether.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurs are capitalizing on the growing awareness that the conventional Pap test isn't even close to being 100 percent accurate. But experts not connected with the companies question the value of the aggressively marketed new tools. They point out that lack of screening, not inaccurate Pap tests, is the main reason cervical cancer is expected to kill 4,100 women this year. Half who died never had a Pap test. Another 10 percent hadn't had one in years.

The latest entry into the cervical cancer screening market is PapSure. For an additional $20 to $40, doctors who offer PapSure will swab a patient's cervix with vinegar, then shine a light on it. Abnormal cells will appear white. But in research in developing countries, OB-GYN Paul Blumenthal found that vinegar and the naked eye were enough for spotting abnormalities. An older test, ThinPrep, costs $45 to $60 dollars. The tiny tools used to collect a specimen are dunked in a vial of preservative and sent to a laboratory, where the cells are filtered out and transferred to a microscope slide. The FDA allows ThinPrep's maker to describe it as more effective in detecting early and more advanced signs of cervical abnormalities.


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Excerpted from:
USA Today
05.21.02; Rita Rubin




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