Researchers recently developed a cervical screening exam that is able to accurately identify cervical cancer using epigenetics. At a fraction of the cost, this new epigenetic test outperformed Pap smears and human papillomavirus (HPV) exams in detecting cervical cancer by identifying naturally-occurring chemical markers that show up on top of the DNA, comprising its epigenetic profile.
"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," explained lead researcher of the study, Attila Lorincz, BsC, PhD, professor at Queen Mary's Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine of London. "Epigenetic changes are what this cervical cancer test picks up and is exactly why it works so well."
Dr. Lorincz added, "In contrast to what most researchers and clinicians are saying, we are seeing more and more evidence that it is in fact epigenetics, and not DNA mutations, that drives a whole range of early cancers, including cervical, anal, oropharyngeal, colon, and prostate."
In the study, published in International Journal of Cancer, eight invasive cervical cancers were detected by this method 100% of the time in a trial involving 15,744 women. Cervical cytology (Pap smears) and HPV exams only detected cancer 25% and 50% of the time.
The study also analyzed a subset of 257 women aged 25 to 65, grouped according to HPV/cytology results and pathology outcomes: HPV and abnormal cytology, HPV and normal cytology, and HPV, normal cytology, and HPV clearance at twelve months. In this subset, pre-cancerous lesions were detected 93% of the time with the new test, compared to detection rates of 86% and 61% using a Pap smear combination test and a Pap smear test alone.
"We were surprised by how well this new test can detect and predict early cervical cancers years in advance, with 100% 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," noted Dr. Lorincz.
For More Information
Cook DA, Krajden M, Brentnall AR, et al (2018). Evaluation of a validated methylation triage signature for human papillomavirus positive women in the HPV FOCAL cervical cancer screening trial. Int J Cancer. [Epub ahead of print] DOI:10.1002/ijc.31976
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