Pap, HPV Testing Decreases Cancer Risk, But Testing Timeline Is Still Debated


Pap and HPV testing can decrease cervical cancer risk, but testing intervals seem to be sporadic for patients.

Most health care providers believe that women should be receiving both Pap and HPV testing to screen for cervical cancer, though debate remains on how often these tests should occur, according to results of a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health and HealthyWomen.

The online survey included responses from 751 health care providers — including nurse practitioners, OB-GYNs, and primary care physicians. Eighty-nine percent of providers said that co-testing (Pap and HPV test) is essential for patients’ health, while 92% said that the Pap test is effective for managing cervical cancer risk.

“The survey results reflect the ongoing confidence women and their HCPs have in the effectiveness and importance of cervical cancer screening,” said Aimee Chism Holland, DNP, WHN-BC, FNP-C, FAANP, Past-Chair of the Board of Directors for the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health, in a statement.

“They also demonstrate a growing reliance on co-testing with the Pap test plus the HPV test together as the gold standard for preventing cervical cancer.”

About two-thirds of health care providers said that they discuss cervical cancer and HPV frequently as part of their routine exams. This is an increase from 64% of providers in 2015.

However, the study also included survey responses from 1,000 women between the ages of 25 to 65, and only 27% said that they talked about cervical cancer all or most of the time. Further, 25% said they never discuss cervical cancer with their providers, and 20% said that they rarely do.

Another discrepancy the survey uncovered was a debate over how often women should receive Pap and HPV testing.

Forty-three percent of health care providers said that women between the age of 30-65 should be tested every 5 years, yet only 23% said that these women actually get tested at that frequency. But unlike other health screenings that may fall by the wayside, about three-fourths (74%) of patients are screened more frequently.

Health care providers reported the following:

  • 1% tested every 4 years;
  • 31% tested every 3 years;
  • 14% tested every 2 years;
  • 27% tested every year, and
  • 1% tested every 6 months.

“The survey results show just how ingrained the Pap test and co-testing are in managing women’s health,” said DaCarla M. Albright, MD, an OBGYN at Penn Medicine and member of HealthyWomen’s Women’s Health Advisory Council. “They demonstrate the growing desire among HCPs and women that both tests continue to be a part of the screening process.”

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