Cervical Cancer :: Cervical cancer screening in the 21st century

Around half a million new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed worldwide each year, resulting in a quarter of a million deaths, second only to breast cancer in women.

However, cervical screening by Pap smear involves a high rate of false negatives, which necessitates frequent testing. The current sampling procedure is also unpopular with women, and many avoid been screened as a result.

In a paper entitled, Cervical screening in the 21 st century: the case for human papillomavirus testing of self-collecting specimens, which appears in the current issue of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine, Professors Brian Morris from the School of Medical Sciences and Associate Professor Barbara Rose from the Department of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, make the case for a new method of self-testing.

‘This is a revolutionary new approach to cervical screening whereby women collect their own specimen at home, and send to a Path Lab who will then test for the virus that causes the cancer human papillomavirus (HPV). The Lab then notified the doctor of the result,’ said Professor Morris.

They conclude that testing for HPV types by polymerase chain reaction or other technologies through self-collected specimens is the way of the future for a number of reasons. ‘A recent study in Amsterdam showed self-sampling with HPV testing increased participation by women in screening,’ said Professor Morris.

The researchers cite accuracy and reliability of DNA testing by methods such as polymerase chain reaction; the longer interval between tests that this implies; applicability of HPV testing to DNA in cells from samples collected for liquid based cytology or dislodges used by the woman herself and mailed to the testing laboratory.

Other factors included the convenience and ease of sample collection by the woman herself and her medical practitioner; scope for automation, speed, lower cost, and communication of results electronically; and suitability to the lifestyle and busy schedule of the modern woman.

‘This new method of testing should be a great help to the one in three women who don’t participate in cervical screening for a variety of reasons, including an aversion to collection of a pap smear, cultural reasons, and lack of access to gynecological services because they live in the outback,’ said Professor Morris.

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