The Pap test has been in use for nearly 100 years. The Pap test looks for abnormal cells growing on the cervix that can be early signs of cancer. But research has shown that the Pap test can miss up to 1/3 of cervical cancers.1
Your healthcare provider will use an instrument, called a speculum, to look into your vagina. Another device is then inserted to collect cell samples from the cervix. The samples are then either placed on a glass slide or placed in a liquid bottle, which are then sent to a laboratory to look for signs of abnormal cells under a microscope. You may feel a little pinch when the speculum is inserted and it may feel a little uncomfortable when a sample is taken from your cervix.
The HPV test checks for high-risk HPV. The simple detection of high-risk HPV is not enough to cause health concerns, since HPV is very common. Therefore, HPV tests have been designed to detect levels of high-risk HPV that have been demonstrated to cause cervical disease. Because of the molecular technology it uses to detect the virus, a trained specialist is not needed to search for abnormal cells. HPV tests give an early, accurate look at your cervical cancer risk.
The Pap test has been in use for nearly 100 years, and has been effective in reducing the incidence of cervical cancer. However, the Pap test can miss up to 32% of cervical cancer cases.1 This is also referred to as a false negative result. A patient with a false negative thinks that they are healthy while their cervical disease goes undetected.
The HPV test is significantly more sensitive than the Pap test and therefore, will miss fewer cervical cancer cases. Before cells turn into cancer, they go through a series of changes. The Pap test looks for those changes in the cells. While not everyone infected with high-risk HPV will develop cancer, the HPV test looks for the presence of the high-risk virus at levels that could cause these cell changes. The Pap test primarily relies on a trained person to search for abnormal cells under a microscope, and results can vary from lab to lab. The HPV test on the other hand is performed with molecular technology that is not subject to the varied interpretations of different laboratories.
Most health plans cover checkups, which would include a Pap test. In the U.S., the Affordable Care Act (ACA) encourages health plans to cover high-risk HPV testing for women who are 30 years of age and older in addition to the Pap test.
GET THE FACTS
STUDIES SHOWED UP TO
OCCURED IN WOMEN WITH NORMAL PAP RESULTS.
SOURCES: KAISER PERMANENTE &
SWEDISH HEALTHCARE SYSTEMS
THE SAME CERVICAL
CELLS COLLECTED FOR A
PAP ARE USED
FOR AN HPV TEST.
1. Leyden WA, Manos MM, Geiger AM, et al. Cervical cancer in women with comprehensive health care access: attributable factors in the screening process. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2005;97(9):675-683