- CHICAGO (AP) - Suburban and rural white New England schoolgirls had strikingly
high rates of cervical cell abnormalities, which are often caused by a
sexually transmitted virus and can lead to cancer, a study found.
- The findings argue for early Pap-smear
screening of all sexually active girls, not just those who live in inner
cities and belong to minority groups, where such high rates have been found
before, the researchers said.
- The study, led by Sharon M. Mount of
the University of Vermont, was published in the March issue of Pediatrics.
- Past studies indicate human papillomavirus,
or HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States,
affecting 13 percent to 46 percent of young women, researchers said.
- Among U.S. adolescent girls, about one-third
are sexually active by ninth grade and about two-thirds by 12th grade,
putting them at high risk for catching HPV, which is well known to cause
cervical cell changes that can lead to cancer, the researchers said. Abnormal
cells revealed by Pap smears can be removed before they become malignant.
- The researchers reviewed 10,296 Pap smear
diagnoses made over a one-year period for females ages 10 to 19 in suburban
and rural Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Almost all were white and were
patients at family planning clinics, private doctors' offices, student
health clinics and hospitals.
- The researchers found 3.8 percent of
the Pap smears showed cell abnormalities of the type that might later develop
into cancer, and 14.6 percent of the smears bore evidence of infection.
The smears did not reveal the proportion of infections caused by HPV. No
cancers were found.
- "This high rate of abnormal Pap
smear results of both an infectious and precancerous nature in this population
may reflect a high level of sexual activity among adolescent girls,"
the researchers said.
- Among 10 to 14 year olds, seven cases
of precancerous changes were found in a total of 378 Pap smears, the researchers
- An accompanying editorial by experts
at Harvard Medical School praised the study for contributing valuable data
about "strikingly high" rates of cell abnormalities in females
that many might consider low-risk.
- "A primarily white and rural or
suburban population might be expected to have rates of abnormal Pap smears
lower than a population of urban women of mixed race and ethnicity,"
the editorial said.