Currently, screening for cervical cancer relies on the results from a pap smear test. In this a sample of cells are obtained from the cervix and analyzed for abnormal changes. However, recent findings suggest an easier, less invasive method for screening and diagnosis.
According to data published by UK researchers and presented at the 2019 National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Scotland, an at-home urine or vaginal swab test could potentially be used as an alternative to the smear test.
This would not require a visit to the doctor’s. Importantly, it could help more women discover if they are at risk of cervical cancer. The study enrolled a sample of 600 female patients. These were attending the colposcopy clinic as a result of an abnormal screening or a positive human papillomavirus (HPV) result at Royal London Hospital. The results showed that the urine/swab test had about a 73% chance of correctly identifying women with advanced abnormal cells. This is similar to the accuracy of the standard pap smear test. More significantly, test accuracy rose to 96% in women with HPV.
Higher screening rates for cervical cancer would encourage earlier detection
These findings are encouraging, especially for women who find the pap smear test difficult. They could ultimately result in higher screening rates due to better accessibility and ease of use. Importantly, a higher screening uptake would allow for earlier disease detection and improve health outcomes.
Should this new screening test replace or supplement the current gold standard pap smear test, GlobalData epidemiologists predict that the diagnosed incidence of cervical cancer will likely significantly increase. This is from the current 2018 estimates observed in the sixteen major pharmaceutical markets (16MM: US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, and South Korea) (as shown in Figure 1).
While these results are promising, more research is needed before the new screening tool can officially be implemented. Researchers should focus on conducting larger, multi-centre studies to better understand and elaborate on the findings from this study.