The pap smear may be an uncomfortable test for women, but that test is the reason death rates from cervical cancer have gone down dramatically over the past several decades. Even so, one problem with the test has been a high rate of false positives because it relied on technicians to interpret cells on a glass slide.
Now, that may be changing. DNA technology is added to the pap smear to find a virus that can lead to cervical cancer. This test was recently approved by the FDA for women over 30 to make the pap smear a better test. "In women over 30 this allows us to define those patients who have persistent human papiloma virus infection which are those patients that get precancerous and may develop cancer. So it allows us to actually prevent cancer before it develops, so it is a very exciting use of the test," says Dr. Leo Twiggs, at the University of Miami.
The American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend HPV, DNA testing for women over age 30, as part of routine cervical cancer screening. But it's new, recently FDA approved, and not widely used yet by doctors.