Department of Medical Oncology, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium.
Although the relation between cervical cancer and the human papillomavirus (HPV) has been established beyond doubt, the introduction of HPV detection in cervical cancer screening is halted, primarily by the high rate of false positivity in relation to morbidity, since the majority of women infected with HPV will not develop lesions. To counteract overconsumption of cervical cancer screening in elderly women, we wanted to test the hypothesis that women of 50 years or older who are HPV-negative and have a cytologically normal smear might be encouraged to refrain from further screening. As a first step, the prevalence of high-risk HPV in a population of 1,936 women of 50 years and older was investigated. After an initial decline, a slightly higher prevalence can be seen with increasing age. There is a decrease in the prevalence of multiple infections with age, paralleled by an increase in single infections, especially of HPV type 16 in the eldest-age group. However, neither the decrease in multiple infections nor the increase in single infections is statistically significant. The data obtained in this study show that, even in the presence of a slight increase in the HPV prevalence in elderly women, approximately 94% of the elderly women can be withdrawn from the cervical cancer screening. However, a follow-up study will be necessary to determine the frequency of (re)infection as well as the course of an HPV infection in elderly women.