Biotechnology company Digene has begun a public advertising campaign for its Food and Drug Administration-approved test for human papillomavirus, mostly due to lower-than-expected sales of the test to health care providers and clinics, The Washington Post reports. Digene's DNA Pap test combines a traditional Pap test with a DNA test that screens for 13 strains of HPV that have been linked with virtually all cases of cervical cancer. The test received FDA approval a year ago to help detect cervical cancer risks in women over age 30. Medical experts say giving women both a Pap and HPV test is much more effective in detecting cervical cancer and even in identifying women who someday may be at risk for the disease. But the company has sold only about 3.1 million test kits, about 9% of what the company estimates it could sell annually in the United States. Some doctors say they don't use the tests because a positive HPV test can trigger cancer fears in women infected with the STD even though they may never develop cervical cancer.
Digene hopes to boost consumer demand for the tests through a print advertising campaign in nine women's magazines and through television commercials. Analysts say about 90% of women with health care insurance are covered for the Digene combination test. Cervical cancer is a common condition among HIV-positive women and is considered an AIDS-defining opportunistic infection.