Women may not require as much cervical cancer screening as what is currently recommended if they have been vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, said researchers from Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
In a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Jane Kim and colleagues detailed how women who got HPV shots may only need to get screened for cervical cancer every five to 10 years, as opposed to the recommended rate of every three years. Additionally, cervical cancer screenings may start later in life.
"This analysis enabled us to examine what would happen if we shifted from the current way we screen for cervical cancer," said Kim.
Given women who get vaccinated against the virus have low chances of developing cervical cancer, they are subjected to excessive expenses and adverse effects with negligible health benefit when screening guidelines are strictly adhered to, she added.
Since 2012, women have been advised by prominent organizations to undergo cervical cancer screening every three years with a Pap smear starting at age 21. They also have the option to switch to a screening method called cotesting that combines HPV testing with a Pap smear every five years starting at the age of 30. These screening guidelines, however, don't differentiate whether or not a woman has gotten HPV shots.
Using a model that simulates diseases, the researchers were able to estimate just what benefits and risks accompany different screening methods. Their aim was to identify the best screening strategy that will be most beneficial to women from economic and health standpoints.
Based on their findings, the researchers observed that women who received the "nonavalent" variant of the HPV vaccine targeting seven HPV types responsible for 90 percent of all cervical cancers would only require four screenings within their lifetime: once every 10 years beginning at the age of 30 or 35.
On the other hand, women who received earlier HPV vaccines targeting two types of the virus that cause 70 percent of all cervical cancers would only require screening every five years beginning at the age of 25 or 30.
The researchers saw as well that utilizing just HPV testing can provide similar value and benefit as cotesting or Pap tests alone. This is because HPV testing is highly sensitive, so it can identify women at risk of cervical cancer more efficiently.
Supported by the National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute, the study also involved work from Nicole Campos, Stephen Sy and Emily Burger.