Intended for healthcare professionals


European women's group calls for human papillomavirus testing

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 06 October 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:772
  1. Rory Watson
  1. Brussels

    A pan-European group of high profile women is pressing for the introduction of routine testing for human papillomavirus (HPV) in all 15 European Union states to ensure the early detection of cervical cancer.

    The organisation, European Women for HPV Testing, believes that the move could save the lives of 12800 women every year.

    The group maintains that with the current state of scientific knowledge and medical capabilities no European woman need die from cervical cancer. It has contacted the European commissioners in charge of public health, equal opportunities, and medical devices—David Byrne, Anna Diamantopoulou, and Erkki Liikanen—for their support. The group believes that including the test in the European Commission's forthcoming recommendation on cancer screening will put extra pressure on health authorities to consider the test's introduction.

    The commissioners were reminded that under the European Union's treaties they have a responsibility to ensure “a high level of human health protection… in the definition and implementation of all Community policies and activities.” The initiative has the support of Professor Ernst Rainer Weissenbacher, chairman of the European Society for Infectious Diseases in Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

    “The clinical and primary screening evidence to support HPV testing is now overwhelming, and it is time for official guidelines to be introduced in an effort to standardise the level of prevention and patient care across Europe,” he said.

    The group acknowledges that the current smear test, which was introduced in the 1940s, has been effective in reducing deaths from cervical cancer. But it points out that because of human error the test's accuracy in detecting the disease ranges from 50% to 70% at best.

    The HPV test's supporters say that it can raise detection rates to 100% British members of European Women for HPV Testing include authors, actresses, television personalities, and politicians, such as Jilly Cooper, Carol Smillie, and Honor Blackman (pictured left to right).

    Dr Sue Moss, associate director of the Cancer Screening Evaluation Unit at the Institute of Cancer Research, said that a health technology assessment review by Cuzick et al, which was published in 1999, concluded that HPV testing could not currently be recommended for widespread implementation.

    Several trials and pilot studies of HPV testing were in progress in the United Kingdom, she added. A trial was being carried out in Manchester, under the Department of Health's health technology assessment programme, looking at testing in primary care, and a pilot study was looking at the use of HPV testing to triage women with smears showing borderline nuclear change and mild dyskariosis.

    Embedded Image

    (Credit: FAMOUS)


    Latest statistics from the NHS show that the overall coverage of cervical screening in England has remained much the same since 1995, but that there has been a falling off of coverage among women under 50 and increasing coverage of women aged 50-64

    Cervical Screening Programme, England 2000-01 is available at