Listen up, boys and girls: HPV news for everyone

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For women over 30, a human papillomavirus (HPV) screening test may out-perform a Pap smear in predicting cervical cancer risk, according to a study by the National Cancer Institute. The study, led by Hormuzd Katki — the results of which will be presented at the meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology — monitored more than 330,000 women who received HPV and Pap tests through Kaiser Permanente Northern California for five years. Only three out of 100,000 women each year developed cervical cancer after receiving a negative HPV and Pap test, and the HPV test was found to be twice as predictive for cancer risk as the Pap. In fact, administering a Pap smear after a negative HPV test had a negligible effect on risk prediction, while a postive HPV test required a confirmatory Pap smear. However, as AP Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione aptly observes in her article, the study did not evaluate the possible downsides of the HPV test — namely, the number of false positives and consequences of the resultant (unnecessary) follow-up procedures. In addition, the HPV test is considerably more expensive: $80 to $100 versus $20 to $40 for the Pap. The study authors conclude that women over 30 who receive a negative HPV test followed by a negative Pap smear can safely wait another three years before being screened again.

Meanwhile, a new study conducted by researchers with Austria’s Innsbruck Medical University and presented at the meeting of the American Urological Association on Tuesday confirms the ubiquity of HPV in both women and men.

The study tested for the presence of HPV in the foreskins of 133 subjects between the ages of 7 months and 82 years. The researchers found that approximately 10 percent of the test subjects had the high-risk for cancer strain of HPV. These data, says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross, add to the growing body of scientific evidence for a need to vaccinate both girls and boys against HPV. “For the sake of the men who can harbor the virus, and for their partners, everyone should receive the HPV vaccine,” says Dr. Ross.