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Report: Doctors overtest for cancer virus

WASHINGTON -- Too many doctors are testing the wrong women, or using the wrong test, for a virus that causes cervical cancer.

The days of one-size-fits-all screening for cervical cancer are long gone. How often to get a Pap smear -- and whether to be tested for the cancer-causing HPV virus at the same time -- now depend on your age and other circumstances.

But a government study reported Monday that a surprising number of doctors and clinics aren't following national guidelines on how to perform HPV checks, suggesting there's a lot of unnecessary testing.

That wastes money and could harm women who wind up getting extra medical care they didn't need, says Dr. Mona Saraiya of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who led the research.

Even she wasn't protected from the confusion. Saraiya was stunned to get a bill showing that her own doctor had ordered testing for HPV strains not connected to cervical cancer.

The findings, reported in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, show women have to be savvy to ensure they're getting the right checkups -- enough, but not too much.

Cervical cancer grows so slowly that Pap smears -- which examine cells scraped from the cervix -- usually find it in time to treat, or even to prevent it.

Certain strains of HPV, the human papillomavirus, cause most cervical cancer. The new CDC study examined how doctors are using HPV testing.

The study found 60 percent of doctors and clinics say they give a routine Pap-plus-HPV test to women who are too young for that combination. National guidelines stress that so-called co-testing is only for women 30 and older. -- AP

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