Testing Women for HPV May in Future Replace Cervical Cancer Smear Tests; US STUDY FINDS TRADITIONAL WAY COULD BE IMPROVED ON
Byline: MADELEINE BRINDLEY
NEW research has cast doubt on whether traditional smear test technology is the best way to prevent cases of cervical cancer.
A large study in the USA, which is published today, says testing women for two strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV) may detect more pre-cancerous lesions.
HPV strains 16 and 18 are known to cause up to 70% of all cases of cervical cancer - 12 and 13-year-old girls are now offered a vaccine to protect against these strains. Results from the Athena trial, which set out to compare HPV testing with liquidbased cytology - a way of preparing smear tests to be examined in the laboratory - suggest HPV testing is more effective.
Experts believe HPV testing alone will eventually become the primary means of screening tests for cervical cancer in high-income countries.
The Athena trial involved more than 47,000 women who attended routine cervical screening in the US between May 2008, and August 2009.
In women who were referred for further tests - called colposcopy - more high-grade pre-cancers were detected in women given HPV testing compared with those given cytology.
The authors of the research, which is published in the Lancet Oncology today, said: "Rational use of HPV testing (and genotyping for HPV16, or HPV18, or both) with or without liquid-based cytology, can provide potentially cost-effective and safe cervical cancer screening."
Commenting on the research, Guglielmo Ronco from the Centre of Cancer Prevention in Turin, said: "Co-testing of HPV and cytology will probably be replaced by standalone HPV testing as the primary screening test in high-income countries, because addition of cytology seems to provide little gain, according to [these] findings. …