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Catch-Up HPV Testing May Help Prevent Cervical Cancer in Some Over 65

, by NCI Staff

Nicolas Wentzensen, M.D., Ph.D., M.S., Deputy Director and senior investigator, Clinical Genetics Branch, and head of the Clinical Epidemiology Unit, talked with NCI Cancer Currents blog writer Linda Wang about a recent study of HPV catch-up screening in individuals age 65 and older. 

photograph of older woman with doctor

For some individuals in their late 60s, it may be worthwhile to get "catch-up" HPV testing, according to findings from a large study.

Credit: iStock

Testing for the presence of cancer-causing types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) is now a standard part of screening for cervical cancer, sometimes with simultaneous Pap tests (known as co-testing). But cervical cancer screening is recommended to stop at age 65 in many places and, for a variety of reasons, many older adults stop getting screened for cervical cancer well before that age. 

Results from a population-based study conducted in Denmark, however, suggest that it may be worthwhile for some individuals between ages 65 and 69 to get tested for HPV: those who haven’t had cervical cancer screening for at least five years.

In the new study, about 60% of women who were invited to undergo this “catch-up” testing for HPV had a test within the next year, with about 6% found to have CIN2+ lesions in the cervix. These lesions are often called precancers because these types of cell changes can go on to become cancer. Finding these lesions early allows doctors to remove them before they can progress. 

In a comparison group of women not invited for catch-up testing, only about 2% had either a Pap test or an HPV test over the next year, of which 4% were found to have CIN2+ lesions.  

Women who were furthest behind on regular screenings—that is, had one or no screenings since age 50—had nearly twice the rate of CIN2+ lesions as women who had been screened two or more times since age 50, the researchers found.  

The study findings were published July 6 in PLOS Medicine.

Read more on the Cancer Currents blog.