Researchers in Italy have recently completed a study comparing the effectiveness of DNA testing for HPV (human papillomavirus) to the commonly used Pap smear for detecting cervical cancer. Their findings suggest that more cases of cervical cancer can be prevented with HPV testing than with the conventional Pap smear, especially for women over 35.
There are, however, some disadvantages to using DNA tests to detect HPV. For example, the test is less specific, which means that there are more false positives in the results. This means more women have to return for further testing. In practice, HPV screening has a callback rate of about 25-30%, compared to a callback rate of about 5-7% for Pap smears, according to Dr. Mark Einstein, a gynecologic oncologist and director of clinical research at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
Health News Review points out that although the HPV test is more effective in the sense that it prevents invasive cervical cancer by detecting persistent high-grade lesions earlier and providing a longer low-risk period for older women, replacing Pap smears with it is not necessarily more cost-effective for patients, given the costs of the additional colposcopies that result from the higher callback rate from HPV testing.