10 Cancer Screening Tests Women Need to Know About

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Human Papillomavirus (HPV) DNA Test

What it is: The DNA test for human papillomavirus (HPV) approved for cervical cancer screening is done much like a Pap test, by taking a sample of cervical cells during a pelvic exam. Certain strains of the virus — HPV 16 and HPV 18 — are most likely to cause cervical cancer. If you test positive for one of these, then you will be sent for further testing, such as a colposcopy. If the test shows any of the other 12 HPV strains that are also linked to cervical cancer, then a Pap test is the next step.

The USPSTF recommends HPV DNA tests in combination with the Pap test every five years for women ages 30 to 65, and for women who prefer to screen less often.

Why you should consider the HPV test: The DNA test for HPV is more accurate in predicting cervical cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. However, the test does have higher rates of false-positive results than the Pap test, because many people carry human papillomaviruses but do not develop cancer. Which cervical cancer screening test you get, Pap or HPV DNA, is not as important as that you get tested, wrote Everyday Health columnist Lauren Streicher, MD. “The majority of the 12,000 women in the United States women who develop cervical cancer each year didn’t have the ‘wrong’ test,” she noted. “The majority of the women who develop cervical cancer had NO test.”

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