BETHESDA, Md--Of the 4,900 US deaths each year from cervical cancer, virtually all could have been prevented by routine Pap smears, and nearly all cases could be prevented by practicing safe sex to avoid infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), a panel of independent experts appointed by the NIH said in a consensus statement.
The statement was developed at the 3-day Consensus Development Conference on Cervical Cancer, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and the NIH's Office of Medical Applications of Research.
The panel found that about half of the 15,700 US women diagnosed with cervical cancer each year have never had a Pap test. Those least likely to be screened include older women, the uninsured, ethnic minorities, and the poor, especially in rural areas.
The panel called cervical cancer "the first major solid tumor to have been shown to be virally induced in essentially every case. HPV DNA is found in virtually all cervical carcinomas and precursor lesions worldwide."
Detecting the Preinvasive Stage
The report went on to say that "the majority of these cancers go through a preinvasive stage that can be detected in the early stage by a Pap smear and treated with nearly uniform success and the retention of fertility."
Because HPV is sexually transmitted, the panel said that adolescents should be encouraged to delay onset of sexual intercourse and to use barrier methods of contraceptives if they are sexually active. The committee also advised the development of effective prophylactic and therapeutic vaccines against HPV.