Why is screening for cervical cancer important?

Cytologic screening (Papanicolaou or Pap test) represents one of the most successful screening efforts of modern medicine. The death rates due to cervical cancer have substantially improved in adequately screened populations.

As compared to the days when a yearly Pap test was done, the introduction of HPV testing along with a Pap test (co-testing) has revolutionized cervical cancer screening. This combination testing has led to less frequent testing, while maintaining the benefits of finding cancer or pre-cancer with similar—or often better—success.

One additional benefit of the newer guidelines that incorporate co-testing (testing both Pap test and HPV) is fewer unnecessary treatments for mild Pap test abnormalities that have a very low likelihood of progressing to cancer. Such treatments can lead to unnecessary patient anxiety, excessive medical costs, and potential problems with cervical stenosis (scarring of the cervix) and future pregnancy complications (related to early delivery and/or early rupture of membranes).