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HPV testing sends recall rate soaring

Human papillomavirus testing is feasible for screening but would dramatically increase recalls and referrals for women under 30, a major new study concludes.

The ARTISTIC trial – the largest-ever UK study of HPV testing as a primary screening tool – found more than 30 per cent of women aged 20 to 29 were infected with the virus.

The study – published in the British Journal of Cancer – assessed HPV tests on cervical smears in primary care. Some 22 per cent had abnormal smears which would require referral for further investigation, twice as many as among those aged 30 to 49, and a 'substantial increase' from current practice.

But the proportion of wo-men with moderate or severe dyskaryosis was equally high in pre-menopausal women of all ages, suggesting women under 30 could not be excluded from screening without missing significant numbers of cancers.

Professor Julian Peto, a researcher on the study and professor of cancer epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: 'You will get a large number of women with HPV and normal cytology. Until you agree a procedure for that you can't introduce it as primary screening.'

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