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Better Than Pap: Virus test detects cervical cancer

For more than 50 years, doctors have used Papanicolaou tests—better known as Pap smears—to screen women for cervical cancer. But researchers now report that a newer test gives a more accurate diagnosis.

In a Pap smear, cells scraped from the cervix are analyzed under a microscope for physical abnormalities. Tests developed in the past decade, however, can detect the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV) in cervical cells. This sexually transmitted disease is the primary cause of cervical cancer.

In two studies in the Oct. 18 New England Journal of Medicine, researchers report that HPV tests caught many more cases of cervical cancer than Pap smears did.

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