Will the Pap smear soon be replaced by a DNA test to detect cervical cancer?

It appears the days of the Pap smear may be numbered.

A recent study from the NEJM showed that a DNA test outperformed the Pap smear in reducing deaths from cervical cancer.

This has tremendous implications worldwide, where cervical cancer continues to be a significant cause of death. Not only is the DNA test effective, it’s also inexpensive, costing around $5.

Pap smears take a longer time to result, and have to be read by a pathologist. On the other hand, while still needing a cervical sample via a pelvic exam, the DNA test can be read by a machine.

Furthermore, the DNA test can be done once every 3 to 10 years, instead of the current guidelines which call for more frequent Pap smears.

So, will American physicians adopt the new DNA test?

Debbie Saslow of the American Cancer Society says it may be awhile before we see widespread implementation of the test in the United States: “The average gynecologist, especially the older ones, says, ‘Women come in for their Pap smear, and that’s how we get them in here to get other care.’ We’re totally overscreening, but when you’ve been telling everyone for 40 years to get an annual Pap smear, it’s hard to change.”

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