A new DNA test to detect human papillomarvirus, the virus that causes cervical cancer, is outperforming older methods, and gynecologists hope it will replace them altogether.
Women over 30 have to get annual Pap smears to test for the virus. Instead, they could take the DNA test once every three to five years.
"The test allows clinicians to screen for HPV that are considered high risk strains, the number one cause of cervical cancer," said Dr. Fred Kam, the medical director at Auburn University Medical Clinic. "If a woman is over age 30, they can consent and elect to have the test, which combined with a negative cervical test or Pap smear, they will not need to be routinely tested again for three years."
The positive outcome of this test was based on an eight-year study done by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation of 130,000 women in India. This study showed how a single DNA screening was the best method of preventing cancer and death by earlier detection.
"We have been using the DNA test consistently as part of our protocol for over four years here at the AU Medical Clinic," Kam said. "There are many other practices who do not use it at all. We believe this is part of our best practices approach and cutting edge medicine that should be the standard of care."
According to the Gate Foundation, cancer kills more than 250,000 women a year especially in lower income countries. But the founder's of the test, Qiagen, have developed a cheaper version to make available to more people despite income disadvantages.
"The implications of the findings of this trial are immediate and global," said Dr. Mark Schiffman of the National Cancer Institute. "International experts in cervical cancer prevention should now adopt HPV testing."
A Pap smear works by scraping cells from the cervix and sending them to the lab to be inspected for any abnormalities. A DNA test uses the same method by scraping the cervix but it adds re-agents that are looked at by a machine.
"If a woman has a gynecological exam and her cervical specimen is abnormal, then with consent from the patient we will have the HPV tests performed," Kam said.