Study: Most women with abnormal Pap smears don't develop cancer

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com April 30 2003 11:00 PM ET

A study in the April 26 edition of the British Medical Journal indicates that at least 80% of women who have abnormal Pap tests will not go on to develop cervical cancer, Reuters Health reports. Researchers in the United Kingdom analyzed the cervical cancer screening records of nearly 350,000 women from 1976 through 1996 and found that for every 10,000 women screened, 1,564 women had an abnormal Pap smear, of whom only 818 underwent further tests or treatment. Of those 818 women, only 21% were shown to have persistent cervical cell abnormalities indicating cervical cancer risk. The researchers conclude that women with abnormal Pap smears should be treated through further tests or even surgery to remove suspect tissue because there is a small risk of cancer development, but they note that the majority of these women will not go on to develop cervical cancer, with or without treatment.

"Most of these abnormalities are no problem at all, but the treatment's simple, and we really think that everyone with a high-grade abnormality needs treatment because [for some] it will make that big, life-saving difference," said lead researcher Angela Raffle.