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DH to pilot HPV testing as primary screening tool for cervical cancer

The Department of Health is to test plans to replace smear tests as the primary screening method for cervical cancer, after its advisors said HPV testing may ‘better indicate which women are at risk'.

The development comes after studies showed using HPV testing as the initial screen detected more women with potentially cancerous lesions compared with using smear tests.

If successful, the pilot would reverse the approach to screening currently being rolled out in England, as cytology would be only conducted if a sample tests positive for HPV.

The announcement comes despite a warning last year that the inclusion of HPV testing as the second-line screen was likely to overwhelm diagnostic services.

The pilot will assess the value of using HPV testing as the primary screen for cervical disease, rather than the currently used cytology test.

A statement from the National Screening Committee, said: ‘The pilot will look at whether this leads to better outcomes for women, while minimising over-treatment and anxiety, and whether it is practical to roll out nationally. The pilot programme will be developed by the NHS Cervical Screening Programme.'

Dr Anne Mackie, director of the National Screening Committee said: ‘This is a good example of a new approach that could further improve an already successful screening programme. HPV testing may better indicate which women are at risk of cervical cancer.'

Paul Burstow, minister for care services, said: ‘The NHS Cervical Screening Programme is world-renowned, and experts estimate it saves the lives of 4,500 women in England every year.

‘By piloting HPV testing we hope to be able to identify and treat those women who are most at risk of developing cervical cancer.'

The National Screening Committee also approved a consultation on raising the initial age of cervical cancer screening in Scotland and Wales to 25 years, in order to bring it in line with England.

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