Pap Smears May Become Extinct

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papsmear-EMBEDPhoto: Medicimage/REX USA.
There is just one appointment that's worse than going to the dentist — and that's getting your annual Pap smear. It's awkward, uncomfortable, and whoever invented the speculum was kind of twisted. But, looks like the Pap smear's days might just be numbered: An FDA committee voted unanimously this week to offer a blood test as a Pap replacement.

The Roche test examines DNA, rather than cervical samples, and is primarily used to detect HPV. But, since HPV is the indicator for nearly every case of cervical cancer, it can arguably replace the Pap altogether. Plus, studies show that HPV testing is more sensitive in detecting precancerous lesions. Dr. Dorothy Rosenthal, a professor at Johns Hopkins who presented to the committee, noted that deaths from cervical cancer have declined. And, she says, there is "tremendous gain" in taking steps toward new testing — like the Roche test.

The committee consists of academic pathologists, microbiologists, and gynecologists who suggested the initial test should be performed on women 25 and older. But, that doesn't mean the Pap will disappear completely. Rather, it will serve as an elective, alternative option. As The New York Times notes, many doctors won't adopt the Roche test until professional societies recommend it in guidelines. As you can probably guess, that may take a while. Some doctors also expressed concern about using the Roche as a Pap substitute in women under 30. Still, it's exciting to think that one day we won't need to put up our feet in those stirrups. (The New York Times)