A new test that can detect the virus which is known to cause cervical cancer could soon replace Pap smears according to an expert from the United Kingdom.
Professor Jack Cuzick speaking at the Conference said testing for the human papilloma virus (HPV) would be a cheaper and more effective screening tool than Pap smears.
‘Pap smears are 70% effective while research has shown that HPV testing could be 90% effective. It is also cheaper and would only have to be done approximately every five years,’ said Professor Cruzick, from Cancer Research UK.
More than 800 Australian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and it claims the lives of almost 300 women every year.
‘One day cervical cancer may be controlled by a vaccination against HPV, but until that time, screening provides the best protection against the disease. The Pap smear is now an antiquated test and HPV looks to be a better universal screening technique.’
Professor Cuzick has also been involved in the International Breast Cancer Intervention Study (IBIS-I) trial examining the use of the drug Tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer.
Results of the first phase of the trial, released in September 2002, showed that Tamoxifen could reduce the risk of breast cancer by about a third.
Recruitment of women for the second IBIS trial, which is due to start next month, is underway.
‘Perth had the highest number of participants of anywhere else in the world in IBIS-I. Almost 800 women tool part in the trial involving more than 7,000 from around the world. We hope West Australian women will be as keen to participate in the second phase of the trial,’ he said.
Progress is also being made in research into the early detection of the most common internal cancer affecting men and women – bowel or colorectal cancer.
There are over 10,000 new cases of bowel cancer in Australia each year, and 4,500 deaths. Around one in 18 men and 1 in 26 women will develop bowel cancer before the age of 75.
Professor Cuzick said a screening procedure called flexible sigmoidoscopy has the potential to reduce mortality from colorectal cancer by 60%.
‘Flexible sigmoidoscopy detects pre-cancerous polyps in the bowel and looks to be more effective than faecal occult blood testing (FOBT) which is more commonly used as an early detection method.
‘I believe that flexible sigmoidoscopy is three to five years away from becoming a universal screen for colorectal cancer.’
A new screening program to detect lung cancer in its early stages in people who have given up smoking is currently being trialed in the United States but it was too early to suggest that the scans be widely used.
‘We know that the risk of cardio-vascular disease drops significantly when a person gives up smoking but the excess risk of lung cancer continues for five to ten years.’
‘Unlike conventional x-rays, spiral CT scans can detect cancerous growths when they are very small. The key to survival, especially in lung cancer, is early detection so this new method of detection has enormous potential to save lives.’
Professor Cuzick said a major trial of spiral CT scans for ex-smokers was due to get underway in Europe.
(Source: Cancer Foundation of WA)