HPV infection rate could be twice as high as predicted

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No image availableNL Times

The number of women in the Netherlands infected with HPV - the virus that can cause cervical cancer - could be twice as high as previously assumed, according to a yet unpublished study by the Jeroen Bosch Hospital, the Volkskrant reports.

This means that the costs of the new population screening, which will be implemented next year, may be much higher than expected. The method of screening for cervical cancer changes next year. Cells taken from a smear will immediately be tested for HPV. If there are signs of the virus, there will be an examination for abnormal cells and then a referral to a gynecologist, who will determine if the patient has cancer.

The Health Council advised that the screening needs to be changed five years ago. They based their calculations on Amsterdam's figures which were collected in the late 90's, according to the newspaper. These figures showed that between 4 and 5 percent of women between the ages of 30 and 65 years carry the HPV virus. The new study shows that almost 8 percent of women in this age group carry the virus.

This does not automatically mean that more women will develop cervical cancer. HPV takes about 15 years to lead to cancer. The body also sorts out many HPV infections itself.

But according to pathologists, the higher infection rate will lead to more referrals to gynecologists, more women who are concerned for no reason as well as more unnecessary treatment.

About 80 critical pathologists are using these new figures to try and stop the introduction of the screening, according to the newspaper. They insist that it is at least postponed until the costs are recalculated. Sending more women to a gynecologist will never come out cheaper, according to them.

Nynke van der Veen, program coordinator at the RIVM, does not expect that the new figures will jeopardize the implementation of the screening. Large margins were used in the original calculations, she said to the newspaper.

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