According to a study, the “epigenetics-based” test detected 100 per cent of the cancers that developed in 15,744 women in a screening trial led by Queen Mary University of London. It performed “significantly better” than the Pap smear or human papillomavirus (HPV) test, and the study’s authors believe it would be cheaper if fully rolled out.
The Pap smear detected one quarter, while the HPV test detected half of the cancers in the group of women aged 25-65 in Canada.
Lead researcher Professor Attila Lorincz, who also helped develop the world’s first test for HPV in 1988, called it an “enormous development”.
He said: “We’re not only astounded by how well this test detects cervical cancer, but it is the first time that anyone has proven the key role of epigenetics in the development of a major solid cancer using data from patients in the clinic.
“Epigenetic changes are what this cervical cancer test picks up and is exactly why it works so well.”
Cervical cancer screening is usually done through the Pap smear, which can only detect around 50 per cent of pre-cancerous cells in the cervix.
The HPV test, which looks for the presence of cancer-causing HPV DNA, is more accurate, but does not identify women’s risks of developing cancer.
Instead of checking for patterns in the DNA genetic code, the new test examines chemical markers that sit on top of the DNA, forming its “epigenetic profile”.
Prof Lorincz added: “This really is a huge advance in how to deal with HPV-infected women and men, numbering in the billions worldwide, and it is going to revolutionise screening.
“We were surprised by how well this new test can detect and predict early cervical cancers years in advance, with 100 per cent of cancers detected, including adenocarcinomas, which is a type of cervical cancer that is very difficult to detect.
“The new test is much better than anything offered in the UK at present but could take at least five years to be established.”
The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and Cancer Research UK and published in the International Journal of Cancer.
Its authors believe that detecting the disease from the start would reduce the number of doctors’ visits and screening appointments.
Abnormal vaginal bleeding is the first noticeable symptom of cervical cancer, and according to the NHS, this includes:
- During or after sex
- Between your periods
- After you have been through the menopause
The health body adds: “Other symptoms of cervical cancer may include pain and discomfort during sex, unusual or unpleasant vaginal discharge, and pain in your lower back or pelvis.”