For older women for whom the HPV vaccine would be costly and possibly too late there is more uplifting news. The Lancet recently published the results of a study that show screening for a virus linked to cervical cancer can give up to 70% better protection against the disease than the usual smear tests.
The study was led by Dr Guglielmo Ronco, of the Centre for Cancer Epidemiology and prevention in Italy. They analysed data and compared two screening methods from four major European trials in England, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands
175,000 women aged 20-64 took part in the trials which lasted around 6 and a half years. The study found that invasive cancer rates were similar for both groups during the first couple of years after trials began.
They then saw a reduction on cancers detected in the women who had undergone HPV screening. The researchers have calculated that HPV screening protected 60-70% more women from invasive cervical cancer than conventional screening alone.
what does this mean for women who dutifully traipse to the nurse's office every 3 years or s0?
The director of NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, Professor Julietta Patnick, said: "These new results ... are incredibly exciting...It also finds that by testing for HPV first we could test all women every five years. At the moment we test women aged 25-49 every three years."
So, for now it just means that once you've had your scrapings taken you won't be googling 'how to make smear test less painful' for another years rather than 3. Onwards.