cancer is the world's second most common cancer in women. Close to half a
million women will contract the disease worldwide. Almost two-thirds of them
will die. Most of these cases occur in the developing world, where there's
little screening for cervical cancer.
researcher John Sellors from McMaster University in Canada says scientists now
know that the vast majority of cervical cancers are caused by exposure to a
virus called human papilloma virus or HPV. He got involved in an effort to find
a rapid screening test for HPV, something that would be simpler than a Pap
smear – a test that has been available since the 1950s.
Pap smear has served its purpose very well in lowering the death rates from
cervical cancer in the developing world, in Europe and in North America,
Sellors reports. But in less well-resourced countries worldwide, cervical
cancer is a real problem and over the last 50 years, since Pap smears existed,
it has really failed to be the answer for places where the resources are very
Pap smear is complicated. It requires the expertise of a doctor or a nurse to
take a sample of cells from deep in a woman's vagina. The sample then needs to
go to a lab for analysis, so it also takes time. And it can be expensive to
perform the analysis. Finally, Sellors
says, there's a shortage of the correct equipment to actually take samples.
lot of countries, especially in African countries, there is an absence of
vaginal specula... the metal object that a health care worker puts into the
vagina in order to visualize the cervix, Sellors says. Therefore, it is really
an attractive option to be able to sample the cervix just with a vaginal swab
that the woman can insert into the vagina herself.
samples taken with this new swab method are then tested. Within several hours, health care workers
have the result, without the need for a lab or even electricity and running
approach could also be of enormous use in countries where cultural norms
restrict women from having vaginal exams.
and his colleagues tried this new swab test on 2,500 women and found it to be
about 90 percent accurate. He says the next step is operational research –
that's the process of getting people to actually use it, see how well it works
in a public setting and report back their results.
are] giving the new test to governments, to government areas... public health
services in India, one in Uganda and one in Nicaragua and actually trying to
test out in real life situations, actual public health clinics in low resource
settings," he says.
experiences of these public health services will give Sellors and his
colleagues information about how well health care workers and women accept the
test and what needs to be done to improve it.
research is published in the British journal, the Lancet Oncology.