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Cervical cancer - testing for THIS virus during a smear test could save lives

CERVICAL cancer is a type of cancer that develops in a woman's cervix, which is the entrance to the womb from the vagina.

Every year in the UK, over 3,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 300,000 women will suffer cervical abnormalities.

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women aged 35 and under.

Now experts have revealed testing for the sexually transmitted disease human papillomavirus (HPV) along with smear tests spots more women at risk of cervical cancer.

Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, a very common virus passed through any type of sexual contact.

While there are 100 different types of HPV, many of which are harmless, two strains HPV 16 and HPV 18 are known to be responsible for 70 per cent of all cases of cervical cancer.


Cervical cancer symptoms: HPV should be tested for during a smear test

These types of HPV infection don't have any symptoms, so many women won't realise they have the infection.

A new study of over 450,000 women found those who had a HPV test along with a smear test receive a faster, more complete diagnosis of possible cervical precancer.

Smear tests look for the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells on the cervix.

Professor Jack Cuzick from Queen Mary University of London said: "This study shows that knowing a woman's HPV status can help determine her likelihood of needing additional procedures, and prioritise immediate treatment and medical resources to the women who need them most.

"In those tested, virtually all high-grade disease occurred in the 43.1 per cent of women who were HPV positive, allowing clinical resources to be focused on women who need them most.

"These data provide essential information for cervical screening guidelines and public health policy."


Cervical cancer symptoms: HPV is linked to anal, cervical and mouth cancer

The benefits of HPV testing outweigh the harms

The study used data from the New Mexico HPV Pap Registry in the United States.

It was the first comprehensive evaluation of HPV testing on the long-term outcomes of women who had received a borderline abnormal Pap test result.

A total of 457,317 women were included in the study and 20,677 women or 4.5 per cent received a borderline abnormal result through a smear and were followed in the study for five years.

Some of the women with borderline abnormal Pap smear results had an HPV test.

HPV testing led to a 15.8 per cent overall increase in the detection of cervical precancer.


Cervical cancer symptoms: HPV should be tested for during a smear test

Virtually all cervical pre-cancers were detected in women who tested positive for HPV, suggesting HPV testing to be a good additional screening method after the Pap smear, researchers said.

Colposcopy, which is a medical examination of the cervix, could then be focused on women who would need it most: those with a positive HPV test.

However HPV testing of women resulted in 56 per cent more biopsies and a 20 per cent increase in surgical treatment procedures performed.

Most of the additional biopsies were for low grade lesions which could have regressed, indicating some overtreatment due to HPV testing.

Professor Cosette Wheeler from the University of New Mexico (UNM) Comprehensive Cancer Centre added: "The benefits of HPV testing outweigh the harms observed but it's important to understand and quantify the harms as well."

Symptoms of cervical cancer include changes to bladder and bowel habits, blood in your urine, loss of bladder control, loss of appetite and weight loss and severe pain in the side.

The study was published in JAMA Oncology,