Name: Verna McGuire, MT(AMT)
Title: Laboratory Supervisor
Employer: Obstetrics & Gynecology of Indiana, P.C., Carmel, IN

Verna McGuireWe’re a specialty group practice focused on Obstetrics and Gynecology.  We offer a complete line of relevant obstetrical and gynecological in-house laboratory tests, including obstetric panels, serology, pregnancy, blood chemistry, estrogen, thyroid, serology, hematology, sexually transmitted disease testing, and many more.  And, in a rare step for physician office laboratories (POLs), we recently became one of the first in the Midwest to add the HPV (human papillomavirus) virus, which can lead to cervical cancer, to our in-house test menu.

There are two types of screening tests for cervical cancer: cytology-based screening, known as the Pap test or Pap smear, and HPV testing. The main purpose of screening with the Pap test is to detect abnormal cells that may develop into cancer if left untreated.  HPV testing is used to look for the presence of high-risk HPV types in cervical cells; these tests can detect HPV infections that cause cell abnormalities, sometimes even before cell abnormalities are evident.

Although HPV infections are extremely common in women under 30, they usually go away on their own before they cause problems. Therefore, the most recent medical guidelines now recommend that women ages 21 through 29 should be screened with a Pap test every 3 years, and only be tested for HPV if their Pap results are abnormal.

Cervical cancer is most common in women who are older than 30, because HPV infections are more likely to be persistent at this stage. That’s why the new guidelines state that women ages 30-65 should be screened every 3 years with a Pap test alone or every 5 years with Pap and HPV co-testing.  Our doctors have adopted this protocol.

Since bringing HPV testing in-house in January, we’ve been averaging about 900 of the tests a month.  We also can do HPV genotyping as needed to identify which specific HPV types a patient may be infected with, as opposed to just testing for the presence of HPV. Because we already had an annual test volume in the range of about 150,000, this new test meant the addition of a full-time clinical laboratory assistant to process the tests. But our physicians and patients appreciate the fact that we have this capability, because now they can get results for this screening in a very timely manner, allowing us to deliver care in in the best manner possible.

While the Pap test alone significantly reduced cervical cancer mortality, as the adoption of co-testing continues to increase, cervical cancer rates are continuing to decline.  It’s just another way that we as healthcare professionals — including those of us in the lab — can help women take charge of their health.