A new blinded case-control study, published in the International Journal of Cancer, pitted a new “epigenetics-based” cervical cancer test against Pap smear and HPV tests to see which one does best in predicting the disease up to five year in advance.
To ensure accuracy, the trial, led by a group of researchers from Queen Mary University of London, involved a massive sample of 15,744 Canadian women (aged 25-65) taking part in a randomised clinical screening trial for cervical cancer (HPV FOCAL).
According to lead researcher Professor Attila Lorincz, the research team was not only “astounded” by the accuracy of their new test, but also happy to claim the first study to prove [sic] the key role epigenetics play in the development of cancer using data from patients in the clinic.
“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,” said Lorincz.
Today, women concerned about cervical cancer have two options – a Pap smear, which is capable of detecting only about 50 percent of pre-cancerous lesions, and a test for HPV (the primary, but indirect cause of cervical cancer), which may lead to undue stress, as most women with HPV do not go on to develop cancer of the cervix.
In the trial, the “epigenetics-based” test correctly identified 100 percent of the eight invasive cervical cancers (including the difficult-to-detect adenocarcinoma) which the volunteers developed over the course of the trial, while Par smear detected only 25 percent, and the HPV test detected 50 percent.
Looking at a subset of 257 HPV-positive women, representatively selected from HPV FOCAL, the new test detected 93 percent of pre-cancerous developments, Pap smear detected 61 percent, and a combination of the latter and an HPV test detected 86 percent.
Although potentially as many as five years away from large-scale deployment at clinics around the world, the new test could reduce not only the cost of testing, but also the number of visits to the doctor, as well as screening appointments.