For cervical cancer, screening examinations include the Pap test and HPV-DNA, which are offered free of charge to women according to specific age groups:
- Pap test every three years between the ages of 25 and 30
- Papillomavirus test every five years between the ages of 30 and 64.
Thanks to women’s increased adherence to screening tests, the incidence of cervical cancer has decreased by about 25 percent over the past decade. We delve into this topic with a medical expert.
HPV Infection and Cervical Cancer: What Relationship?
Cervical cancer, or carcinoma of the cervix, is caused by a previous sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. There are several types of HPV viruses, and of these, HPV 16- and HPV 18-induced infections are considered to be among those most at risk for cervical carcinoma, which is one of the five most frequent cancers in women under the age of 50. In addition to infection, factors contributing to cancer occurrence include:
- Family history of cervical cancer
- Cigarette smoking
- Sexual habits
- A diet low in fruits and vegetables
How Much Time Passes from HPV Infection to Cervical Cancer?
In most cases, HPV infections regress spontaneously. In some cases, however, lesions form on the tissue of the cervix over time that can develop into cancer. Because the time between lesions and cancer is long, and the clinical signs of infection or disease are not always visible, Pap testing every three years from age 25 to 30 makes it possible to identify the presence of lesions before they degenerate (precancerous lesions), treat them, and resolve them. After age 30, according to the latest scientific evidence, the most effective test for detecting Papilloma virus lesions is HPV-DNA, which should be performed every five years.
Pap Test and HPV-DNA Test: How Often It Is Recommended
At a young age, the likelihood of having an HPV infection without clinical significance is very high. Hence, the decision to offer free Pap test screening to women between 25 and 30 years of age every three years. In the presence of HPV-DNA test positivity, the Pap test is essential to detect alterations that need further diagnostic investigation (such as colposcopy or annual HPV testing).
HPV-DNA testing is not recommended before age 30 precisely because of the slow evolution of lesions on the cervix due to Papillomavirus infection. For the same reason, it should not be repeated at intervals of less than five years.
Why It Is Critical to Adhere to Screening Programs
Adhering to screening tests and performing them at regular intervals is crucial because it increases the chances of detecting and diagnosing any precancerous lesions that, in most cases, can be removed with minor surgery. This stops the natural progression of the lesion to cancer. The treatment choice, however, depends on the nature, depth, and location of the identified lesion. If it is necessary to perform the Pap test more frequently, the examination can be performed outside screening programs by booking a gynecological exam. In this case, the analysis is performed during the visit.