Screening for HPV virus can check cervical cancer: study

April 2nd, 2009 - 9:35 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, April 2 (IANS) In a major breakthrough, scientists from India and abroad have found that screening for the virus that causes cervical cancer could significantly reduce deaths by 47 percent. One in every four new cases detected worldwide each year is from India.
These are the findings of a new study published in the April 2 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

India gets about 132,000 new cases of cervical cancer every year, as compared to the 500,000 cases that surfaces globally.

The study, which says that single round of screening for the cancer-causing human papilloma virus or what is popularly known as HPV, was conducted among 131,746 women from Osmanabad district in Maharashtra in a randomized controlled trial.

Cervical cancer is a malignant cancer of the cervical areas and the symptoms may be absent until the cancer is in its advanced stage, say doctors.

The study, which lasted eight years, compared women in rural India who received screening for HPV against those who received education and referral.

The researchers subjected women in the age group 30-59 years to three types of screening - HPV DNA test (to check the infection and the virus strain), PAP smear (cervix cell test), and visual inspection of the cervix with acetic acid or VIA.

The result concluded that if 80 percent of women aged 30 to 59 worldwide had HPV test results followed by swift treatment for cancer, the number of cervical cancer and deaths would drop by almost half within 10 years.

Researchers said the HPV test gives faster, more sensitive results than a PAP smear, which is slower, more subjective and dependent on skilled interpretation.

Only 34 of the women who received HPV testing died of cervical cancer. In contrast, 54 of the women who got PAP smears died, 56 who were visually examined using acetic acid died and 64 women who got no screening died of cervical cancer, the study said.

In addition, the women who received the HPV test were found to have far fewer cases of advanced cervical cancer.

The study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, in Lyon, the Nargis Dutt Memorial Cancer Hospital and Tata Memorial Centre in Mumbai conducted the study.

Welcoming the findings, Dr Neeraja Batla, additional professor in the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, said one-fourth of all cervical cancer are seen in India.

“This study shows that if the tests identified the women at risk of getting cervical cancer, one can treat them. The detection of pre-cancerous stage in a woman would help a lot,” Batla told IANS.

According to Rengaswamy Sankarnarayanan, lead investigator from IARC, a drawback to HPV testing is that it is more expensive ($20 to $30 per test in US dollars) and time-consuming than other screening tests, and it requires a sophisticated laboratory infrastructure.

But following the findings, the Netherlands-based QIAGEN’s said they would be donating one million HPV test kits over the next five years with a total estimated value of over $30 million, as part of its broader global access programme to provide the highest quality cervical cancer screening technologies to women in developing countries.

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