December 16, 2011
Dutch Study Shows HPV Tests Improve Cancer Screening
The results of a 5-year study by Dutch scientists indicate that a DNA test able to detect the virus usually responsible for cervical cancer should be combined with existing smear tests for more thorough preventative care.
Researchers at the VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam reported the results of their study of 45,000 women in The Lancet Oncology this week. They say their data provide the most compelling evidence to-date supporting human papillomavirus (HPV) testing in women over the age of 30.
Researchers have long known that persistent infections with particular strains of the sexually transmitted virus are the most common cause behind cervical cancer in adult women. While traditional Pap smear tests look only for pre-cancerous cells, in recent years several medical companies have developed tests which screen for certain “high-risk” strains of HPV using known segments of the virus´ DNA. The Dutch study is the first to offer strong evidence that such HPV tests may provide a critical supplement to traditional screening practices.
Their study entailed conducting two HPV tests at a five-year interval on women between ages 29 and 56 and found that combining these DNA tests with traditional Pap tests allowed them to detect pre-cancerous lesions–the forerunner to cervical cancer–earlier than using Pap smears alone. And this earlier detection led to earlier treatment which, in all forms of cancer, leads to higher rates of survival.
Hormuzd Katki and Nicolas Wentzensen of the U.S. National Cancer Institute called the Dutch scientists´ findings “overwhelming evidence” of the benefits of HPV testing.
Until recently, there had been significant debate in the medical community over whether these so-called ℠liquid-based cytology´ tests–the most common form of HPV DNA screening test–were as effective in detecting potential risk of cervical cancer.
In the U.S. liquid-based cytology tests for HPV have already more or less replaced the Pap smear as the standard method of testing, but in Europe the debate over their effectiveness has continued. Dutch researchers believe that the results of their study will help put an end to doubts over the effectiveness of HPV screening and help integrate it into a more comprehensive program of preventative screening.
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