Researchers say a relatively new test for HPV, the human papillomavirus, could replace a more invasive procedure to screen for cervical cancer. It could be appealing for many women who avoid current screening methods.
HPV is linked to cervical cancer, and screening for the disease is an invasive procedure that has required that cells be removed from the cervix and examined under a microscope.
Recently, less invasive tests have been developed. Rather than look for abnormal cells on the cervix, these tests examine a woman’s urine for evidence of HPV infection in the form of DNA from the virus.
Researchers from Britain and Spain analyzed 14 previous studies of the urine test. They found that the urine tests were not quite as accurate as the microscope examination, but were almost as good when the test used the first urine passed after a night’s sleep.
Researcher Dr. Neha Pathak of Queen Mary University of London said in a telephone interview that a reliable, non-invasive test could encourage more women to be screened.
“If you have a urine test that is as accurate as that, then it opens up the world of opportunity for these people to still be tested for cervical cancer and pre-cancer, so they’re not missing out on the treatments that are readily available,” she said.
Pathak and her colleagues published their findings in the British medical journal The BMJ.
In an editorial commenting on the paper, researchers at the University of Manchester urged further research, including a study that compared results from different tests on the same woman.
Meanwhile, the study’s lead author, Neha Pathak, envisions a time when home-based urine tests for HPV will be available to screen for cervical cancer.
“Imagine if you’re in a village in the middle of nowhere. You don’t have much access at all to doctors and nurses on a daily basis. It would be fantastic if you could just put it in a pot, send if off. Two weeks later you’d get told your results.”
In the meantime, Pathak notes that her findings “have to be interpreted with caution.” But she says urine tests for HPV infection deserve to be explored “with some priority and urgency.”