Great news! A more accurate test for cell changes that can lead to cervical cancer has just been developed by scientists.
The groundbreaking test can also detect DNA markers for some other common cancers, implying that it could be used as a predictive test for breast, womb, cervical, and ovarian cancer in the future.
The researchers behind the test previously demonstrated that by using cervical cells from a routine smear test, they may be able to detect or predict the development of ovarian and breast cancer.
The expert team has now revealed that when used to screen for cervical cancer, the new test outperforms current methods in identifying women with advanced cell changes who require treatment.
How much better is the new test?
It detected 55% of those who would have cell changes in the next four years in those who did not have cell changes but had human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes the majority of cases of cervical cancer. The findings were published in Genome Medicine.
“This new method is more specific and doesn’t lead to over-treatment, which is good news for cervical cancer prevention and great news for everyone who needs to be screened,” said Athena Lamnisos, the chief executive of the Eve Appeal charity.
“It’s so welcome to see screening tools and predictive tests becoming more effective. We want to prevent cancer – and we know with cervical cancer that we can intervene at an early stage.”
Each year, approximately 3,200 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in the UK alone, with approximately 850 deaths. Half of all women with the disease live for ten years or longer.
How does the new test work?
DNA contains all of the genes that people inherit from both parents, whereas DNA methylation instructs cells on which bits of DNA to read.
Smoking, pollution, a poor diet, and being overweight can all alter these markers and alter how the cell behaves. Scientists believe they can detect cancer and possibly predict someone’s risk of developing cancer in the future by closely studying DNA methylation.
The new study included 1,254 cervical screening samples from women who had cell changes ranging from low to high risk, women who had HPV but no cervical cell changes, and samples from women who had no cervical cell changes but developed high-risk cell changes within four years.
“Vaccination against the virus that causes cervical cancer is now widely implemented and is leading to changes in the amount and types of virus circulating in the community,” said Prof Martin Widschwendter of UCL’s department of women’s cancer. As a result, the approaches to cervical screening must evolve in order for programs to continue to be beneficial.
“Building new, holistic, risk-predictive screening programs around existing, effective cervical sample collection offers real potential for cancer prevention in the future.”