Scientists have discovered a revolutionary test that identifies cell changes, which can lead to cervical cancer. Each year in the UK, there are about 3,200 new cases of cervical cancer, with 850 deaths. 50% of women survive for more than 10 years with the disease.
The test has also been said to identify DNA markers common in other cancers, such as ovarian, breast, womb and cervical cancer.
The research shows that using cervical cells from smear tests may be able to predict the likelihood of ovarian and breast cancer developing, or at least spot early signs, according to results published in the journal Genome Medicine.
To find the research, scientists studied the extra layer of information on top of the DNA, known as DNA methylation.
More accurate testing
When compared to other methods, the new test was shown to be more accurate at detecting advanced cell changes in those who need treatment.
In those who did not have cell changes but did have human papillomavirus (HPV) – a strain that caused many cases of cervical cancer – 55% of people were detected to have cell changes in the next four years.
Athena Lamnisos, the chief executive of the Eve Appeal charity says: “This new method is more specific and doesn’t lead to over-treatment, which is good news for cervical cancer prevention and great news for everyone who needs to be screened.
“It’s so welcome to see screening tools and predictive tests becoming more effective. We want to prevent cancer – and we know with cervical cancer that we can intervene at an early stage.”
The study used 1,254 cervical screening samples from women with a range of risk levels, including those without any cervical changes but who developed high-risk cells in four years and women with no cell changes but with HPV.
Professor Martin Widschwendter, from University College London’s department of women’s cancer, said: “Vaccination against the virus that causes cervical cancer is now widely implemented and is leading to changes in the amount and types of the virus circulating in the community.
“In turn, our approaches to cervical screening must adapt so that programmes continue to deliver benefits. Importantly, our other work has shown how testing the same cervical sample can also deliver information on a woman’s risk of three other major cancers – breast, ovarian and womb cancers.
“Building new, holistic, risk-predictive screening programmes around existing, effective cervical sample collection offers real potential for cancer prevention in the future.”