New virus test may stop cervical cancer in rural women

HONG KONG Sun Sep 21, 2008 7:11pm EDT

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HONG KONG (Reuters) - A new rapid test for the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer, has proven to be 90 percent accurate in a trial involving women in rural villages in eastern China.

The findings were published in The Lancet Oncology, and researchers said it could help pave the way for effective screening to prevent cervical cancer in rural and resource-poor settings.

The rapid test, careHPV, is a product of Qiagen NV and was designed to detect 14 high-risk types of HPV in about 2.5 hours. It can be operated by staff with minimal training and without any running water.

"If women 30 years and older could be screened at least once in their lifetimes with such a test, and appropriate treatment administered at the same visit, public health programmes would be affordable and deaths from cervical cancer would be reduced by a third," said one of the researchers, John Sellors, professor of family medicine at the McMaster University in Canada.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer affecting women worldwide. It causes 300,000 deaths a year, with 85 percent of these occurring in the developing world.

Screening using pap smear is routinely done in the United States and Europe, where it has led to a 50 percent reduction in mortality. But implementing such tests in developing countries is not as easy, where taking smears and reading them can be problematic.

Although there are now vaccines against HPV, they are useless in women already exposed to the virus. For these older women, screening and early detection remain the best hope.

The trial involved 2,388 women in Shanxi in eastern China who were given instruments and instructions to collect specimens themselves. Midwives also collected other swab samples from the women. These were all run through careHPV tests.

Results were then compared against digital colposcopies done by a gynecologist at the site. Colposcopy examines the cervix and surrounding tissues for precancerous lesions.

"The ability of the careHPV test to detect precancerous cells was found to be 90 percent; 84.2 percent of the women without precancerous disease were identified as negative by the test," the researchers said in a statement.

(Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by David Fox)

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