At-home test could boost screening for cervical cancer

An at-home non-invasive screening for cervical pre-cancer was presented at a cancer conference in GlasgowMore

An at-home non-invasive screening for cervical pre-cancer was presented at a cancer conference in GlasgowMore

In a presentation at the 2019 NCRI Cancer Conference, Dr Belinda Nedjai said that the self-sampling test had proved popular with women taking part in the study - suggesting it's likely to improve participation in cervical cancer screening programmes.

Even then, it would only be one option for women - as the researchers believe smear tests would continue in their current form.

"We chose to assess whether S5 could identify women who had CIN3 pre-cancer lesions using urine and vaginal samples", said Dr Nedjai.

Screening aims to pick up early warning signs of cancer - known as pre-cancers - that can be treated to prevent the disease.

Around one in four United Kingdom women do not attend when invited, figures suggest. In the longer term, self-sampling could become the standard method for all screening tests.

A high score suggests there is an increased risk of a pre-cancer lesion being present. "The study indicated that women much preferred doing a test at home than attending a doctor's surgery", said Dr Nedjai, who is Senior Research Fellow and Director of the Molecular Epidemiology Lab at Queen Mary's Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine. Sometimes, if the changes are borderline, the sample is also tested for types of human papilloma virus (HPV) that are high risk for cervical cancer.

Dr Nedjai added: "We are now working on new markers to try to improve the accuracy of the classifier even further, but these findings represent an advance in cervical cancer screening".

"For women who do not attend the clinic, such as older women, or women who find the smear test too painful or who do not have access to a screening programme in their country". Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are linked to HPV. "We expect the self-sampling test to improve acceptance rates for cervical cancer screening, as well as reducing costs to health services and improving the performance of screening programmes". Cancer Research UK funded Dr Nedjai's study.

The results reveal that for both urine and vaginal swabs from the women, the S5 test had about a 73% chance of correctly spotting women with advanced abnormal cells as diagnosed by colposcopy - putting it on a par with the standard test for high-risk HPV. "But we need to know if this test picks up all changes and if it's as successful when testing a wider group of people".

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, said although more research was needed, DIY checks could be a "game-changer".

"We are now working on new markers to try to improve the accuracy of the classifier even further, but these findings represent an advance in cervical cancer screening, especially for women who do not attend the clinic, such as older women, or women who find the smear test too painful or who do not have access to a screening programme in their country".

"It could mean those requiring treatment are identified faster and reduce the number of women having to go for potentially unnecessary investigations at colposcopy".

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