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Can a DNA Test for HPV Replace the Pap Smear?

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A new test for HPV has been cleared as way to screen for cervical cancer, but doctors are concerned that it doesn't do enough to protect younger women.

By its name alone, the Pap smear sounds like an uncomfortable procedure. Say it aloud: Pap smear. And it’s not too pretty to experience either. You put on a paper dress, slip your feet into stirrups, and spread your legs so a gynecologist can insert a metal duck-bill-shaped speculum (which, if you’re lucky, she’s has taken care to warm up beforehand) into your vagina. Then she swabs your cervix with a long Q-tip to collect a few cells, which she’ll examine under the microscope for abnormal growth that could develop into cancer.

It’s a procedure inconvenient and uncomfortable enough that many women chronically avoid having it done, despite the recommendation to get the cervical cancer test every three years. But it’s incredibly important for women’s health: since the Pap smear’s introduction in the 1950s, cervical cancer diagnoses and deaths have gone down 60 percent, saving thousands upon thousands of lives.
 
 

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