In clinical screening trials with more than 15.500 women participating, the procedure was able to score 100% detection rate, greatly outperforming both the current Pap smear and human papillomavirus (HPV) test. The resulting study was published in the International Journal of Cancer.
Currently, at Queen Mary’s Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, lead researcher Professor Attila Lorincz noted: “This is an enormous development. 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”. Dr. Lorincz was also part of the team that developed the world’s first Food & Drug Administration-approved test for HPV in 1988.
The test can also predict the development of cervical cancer in advance. It detected 93% of pre-cancerous lesions in those women, compared to 86% detected using a combination of the Pap smear and HPV test, and 61% detected using the Pap smear on its own.
Instead of checking for patterns in the DNA genetic code itself, which can indicate the presence of the HPV virus, this new test looks at the naturally-occurring chemical markers that appear on the surface of DNA, making up its ‘epigenetic profile’.
The lower cost for the procedure is another advantage. Combined with its high accuracy rate, this would make screening even more affordable, as well as reduce the number of appointments needed. Furthermore, it could be possible to adapt the test for other forms of cancer, including prostate, colon, anal and oropharyngeal.
“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.