New Pap test clears up confusion for students

By Bridget Maiellaro

Many female students mistakenly believe an abnormal Pap test result automatically means cancer. However, a recent and more efficient way of screening for such abnormalities called the ThinPrep Pap Test is helping combat this misconception.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the ThinPrep Pap Test in 1996, stating that it is “significantly more effective,” according to the official Web site of the Cytyc Corporation, a medical device company that provides products focused on women’s health.

Instead of smearing cells onto a slide, the new test involves putting the sample in a liquid-filled vial, which preserves the cells for a longer period of time. McKinley Health Center acquired the test in August of 2004 and is currently using the ThinPrep Pap Test.

The clinical benefits of the ThinPrep Pap Test include increased disease detection, reduction of unclear diagnoses, improved results and the ability to perform additional tests out of the same sample, such as testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea, two sexually transmitted infections.

Abnormal results could also be caused by a number of things, such as yeast, bacterial vaginosis, or a type of human papillomavirus. Human papillomavirus is the broad category for over a hundred different strands of sexually transmitted viruses.

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    Nicole Olbie, sophomore in LAS, learned about the variation of test results seven years ago, when her mother’s Pap test result came back abnormal.

    Her family assumed that she had cancer, when really it was just a low-risk type of the virus.

    “It was a scary experience for my entire family,” Olbie said.

    There are over a hundred different types of low-risk and high-risk, or cervical cancer-causing, human papillomaviruses, which are the most prominent in abnormal test results. The virus is immensely common, even though many people, including students at the University, are unaware that it even exists.

    Up to 80 percent of men and women will become infected with the virus at some time in their life and 60 percent of sexually active college students may become infected while at school, according to a handout released by the McKinley Health Center.

    Most people are unaware they even have the virus because there are usually no signs or symptoms, said Denise Watkins, nurse practioner in Women’s Health at McKinley. In fact, fewer than 5 percent of people with human papillomavirus will have genital warts, one of the many types of the virus. Regardless, women with a form of this virus may have an abnormal test result, she said.

    The ThinPrep Test helps differentiate between the low-risk and high-risk strands of the virus. It allows doctors to find out whether the abnormal results will lead to cervical cancer.

    “There are 16 to 18 types that are particularly identified that they found in nearly all of cervical cancer cases,” Watkins said. “(The ThinPrep Pap Test) is more accurate because we can really catch those that are at risk for cervical cancer that have the positive high risk (human papillomaviruses) and get them in for earlier testing and closer monitoring.”

    Kristen Elfstrand, sophomore in LAS, is one of many students who are thankful for the new technological advances of the Pap smear test. Her aunt was diagnosed with cervical cancer last summer and is now cancer free.

    “I’m just glad that she was able to be helped right away,” she said. “Without the test, she would still have cancer today and not even know about it.”

    One-third of women with cervical cancer will die from it, according to Cytyc Corporation’s Web site. However, if it is detected at an early stage, it is highly curable. Therefore, doctors strongly recommend having an annual Pap test.

    “It’s very important to get one, especially with (human papillomaviruses) being so prevalent,” Watkins said. “Just come talk to us.”