London: Testing women for the human papillomavirus (HPV) first, instead of using the traditional cervical screening test to detect abnormal cells in the cervix, could cut cervical cancer cases by a third in UK, a new study has claimed.
The tests can prevent around 600 cases of cervical cancer a year in England, according to Cancer Research UK scientists, based at Queen Mary, University of London.
Scientists identified more than 8,750 women with cervical cancer and looked back at their screening records. They found almost 40 per cent had a negative cytology test result - the existing cervical screening test - within six years of their diagnosis.
They then used these data to predict how many more cases of cervical cancer could have been prevented if HPV testing had been used as primary screening test instead of the cytology test.
Assuming that primary HPV1 testing would pick up 95 per cent of the cases missed by cytology, the researchers estimate that it could prevent up to 33 per cent of cervical cancer cases in women aged 25-64 if introduced in England.
The cervical screening programme prevents cases of cervical cancer by detecting and treating abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix, which can be the precursors of cancer.
At the moment cervical cells are studied under a microscope to detect abnormalities, this is known as cytology. HPV testing is only used when women`s cells display mild or borderline abnormalities.
Primary HPV testing is done in the same way but is better at identifying women at risk of cervical cancer.
In England around 1,800 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year in women aged 25-64. This research suggests that HPV testing could cut that number by around a third predicting that around an additional 600 women might have their cancer prevented.
"Cervical cancer screening is already hugely effective but our study shows how much better it could be by swapping to primary HPV testing," said Professor Peter Sasieni, the study author.
"Not only would introducing primary HPV testing prevent more cases of cancer, it would also mean women who tested negative wouldn`t need to be checked as often," he said.