Home test helps screen for cervical cancer

Cervical screening is at a 20-year low in Britain, according to Public Health England, which launched a campaign earlier this year to promote screening.
Cervical screening is at a 20-year low in Britain, according to Public Health England, which launched a campaign earlier this year to promote screening.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

PARIS • An at-home, non-invasive screening for cervical pre-cancer could increase compliance with recommended follow-up tests, according to research presented at a recent cancer conference.

Called the S5 test, the screening is based on a urine sample or vaginal swab that women can collect themselves and have it sent to a lab.

Researchers look for a change in DNA associated with a human gene and the four most dangerous types of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted infection linked to cervical cancer.

The protocol was developed by Dr Belinda Nedjai of the Molecular Epidemiology Lab at Queen Mary University of London to increase the compliance of women who do not return to the clinic after an abnormal test result.

These are typically older women who find the follow-up painful, she said.

The test is considerably less invasive than those requiring a speculum, she said. It is also fast - after samples are sent to the lab, it takes only hours to do the screening.

"These women can give a swab or a urine sample and we can test them," she said. "It's going to be beneficial."

 
 

Currently, the gold standard for cervical-cancer screening is an HPV test and a pap smear, usually following a positive HPV result.

Patients with an abnormal pap smear are then referred for another screening, called a colposcopy.

Dr Nedjai said the S5 screening could reduce the number of women sent for a colposcopy.

It was tested at Royal London Hospital on 620 patients who had an abnormal pap smear or positive HPV test.

"We found that the S5 classifier - with or without HPV testing - worked well in both urine and vaginal samples," said Dr Nedjai, who shared the findings last Monday at the National Cancer Research Institute Cancer Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

"It distinguished between wo-men who had no pre-cancerous lesions and those who had (higher-risk) lesions."

In patients with HPV, an S5 urine test was better at correctly identifying women with pre-cancer lesions than testing for a high-risk type of HPV, she said. Vaginal samples worked equally well.

As a standalone test in those who had not been screened for HPV, the pre-cancer was identified in at least 85 per cent of positive cases.

Cervical screening is at a 20-year low in Britain, according to Public Health England, which launched a campaign earlier this year to promote screening.

Dr Nedjai said a lot of research needs to be done before the S5 test can be used in place of HPV testing.

She said implementation of the S5 test may be fast-tracked in low-and medium-income countries where cervical cancer screening is not available. "For them, it's a win-win process," she said.

There were more than 311,000 deaths from cervical cancer last year and about 90 per cent were in less-developed countries, according to the World Health Organisation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2019, with the headline 'Home test helps screen for cervical cancer'. Print Edition | Subscribe