New screening approach helps identify women at high risk for cervical cancer

Using a new screening approach, doctors can identify women at high risk for cervical cancer more efficiently, according to a study published in Cancer, Causes and Controls (2010 Jul 9. [Epub ahead of print]).

In a study led by Attila Lorincz, professor of molecular epidemiology at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, researchers sought to determine the real world performance of routine HPV DNA testing and routine cytology testing in the Mexican IMSS health insurance system. Included in the study were over 50,000 women, ages 20-70 years, who underwent routine cytology and high-risk (HR) HPV DNA testing.

Researchers found that HPV DNA testing for precancer and cervical cancer was over 50% more sensitive than cytology testing for the same conditions. Specifically, in women who were both cytology and HPV DNA positive the rate of pre-cancer or cancer was 19.7% compared to 3% in women who were positive by cytology alone. In women who were positive twice for high risk (HR) HPV DNA, the rate of pre-cancer and/or cancers was 11.7%. Overall, the sensitivity of HPV DNA testing for precancers and cervical cancers was 93.3% compared to 40% for cytology testing.

“The data confirms that HR-HPV DNA testing is much more sensitive than cytology and that HPV testing also identifies women with high risk of serious cervical disease in an efficient and medically acceptable manner,” said Professor Lorincz.

In the press release announcing the findings, the authors explained that the advantage to the new cervical cancer screening approach is that women who are HPV DNA positive can be quickly referred to colposcopy, thus catching the vast majority of the precancers and cancers. In contrast, women who are HPV DNA negative can be safely made subject to much longer screening intervals, saving considerable costs for the Mexican health system.

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