A simple HPV (human papillomavirus) home test may be as effective as tests done by doctors to detect a woman’s cervical cancer risk. According to a recent study, Swedish researchers from Lund University believe HPV home tests could serve as a special exit test for HPV detection in women who are above screening age — 60 to 65 years old — to reduce the number of cancer cases for this age group.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the majority of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV, commonly transmitted from person to person during sexual intercourse. More than half of sexually active people are infected with one or more HPV types at some point in their lives, with 42.5 percent of women having genital HPV infections, whereas less than seven percent of adults have oral HPV infections.
Some HPV types, also known as high-risk types, can cause cell changes on a woman’s cervix that can lead to cervical cancer over time. HPV infects epithelial cells organized in layers and covers the inside and outside surfaces of the body, including the skin, the throat, the genital tract, and the anus. Since HPVs are known to not enter the bloodstream, having an HPV infection in part of the body should not provoke an infection in another part of the body.
If the infected cells continue to grow persistently, they may develop mutations that could lead to even more cell growth, the formation of a high-grade lesion, and a tumor, according to the National Cancer Institute. HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for about 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases. However, it can take anywhere from 10 to 20 years from the time of an initial HPV infection until a tumor forms.
Women are advised to undergo regular Pap smears between 21 and 65 years old to screen for cervical cancer, with those 30 and older, advised to also take an HPV test along with the Pap test. Now, researchers believe even after a woman is not of screening age, she should take an HPV test to detect any possible risk of cervical cancer, since 25 percent of the cases occur after age 65.
Dr. Lotten Darlin at Lund University in Sweden and her team of researchers believe HPV home tests could encourage women to be proactive for getting tested for HPV by eliminating barriers such as money and transportation, as reasons for not getting screened. Dr. Darlin and her colleagues developed their own home test, which comprises of a simple cotton bud and a test tube. The test is sent off to a lab and has proven to produce just as clear results as HPV tests taken by a doctor.
In one of the studies mentioned in the review, the self-testing kits were sent to 1,000 women who had not had a smear test for over nine years. Only 15 percent of them used the test and sent in samples for analysis, the researchers wrote.
“That may not seem like many. But for this group, who have failed to go for a smear test for so many years, it is nonetheless a significant improvement”, said Lotten Darlin in the press release.
The home-based HPV test helps promote early detection, self-awareness, and full control in women who wish to examine themselves in the privacy of their own home. A cervical cancer screening of the self-collected cervical cells can significantly improve concentration in populations that are at-risk who have limited barriers that may not allow them to have conventional screen testing.
The researchers also made an important observation in the number of patients who die from the disease in Sweden. Those who pass away are either above the screen age or part of the 20 percent who fail to attend their screenings. The end of the regular screening program for women between the ages of 60 and 65 is highly concerning for an age group that makes up one-fourth of cervical cancer cases in the Sweden. Darlin believes the Swedish health service shouldn’t let older women leave the screening program without a special exit test for HPV for early cervical cancer detection.
“Overall, the findings highlight women above 65 years of age may benefit from a prolonged HPV test screening program,” the researchers wrote.
Therefore, high risk women may benefit from more frequent self-sampling HPV tests that are simple and more cost-effective to normal screening programs.
In the U.S., women with cervical cancer have approximately a 75 percent survival rate because of screening tests and the HPV vaccine that is designated to prevent HPV-related infections.
To learn more about HPV home tests, click here.