By Miriam Stoppard 22/11/2010
We’ve made great inroads in the fight against cervical cancer. Before the cervical screening programme was introduced in 1988, the death rate from the disease had tripled over 20 years.
Now regular smear tests save an estimated 5,000 lives a year, according to the charity Cancer Research UK. Currently 2,800 women are diagnosed and 1,000 die from the disease in the UK every year.
The next breakthrough was the Cervarix jab, which was rolled out to 12-year-old girls in the UK from 2008.
The jab helps protect against two major strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which are thought to account for more than 70% of cervical cancers.
Now I’m interested to hear about a third step that could help us tackle the disease even more effectively.
Cancer Research UK scientist Professor Sasieni has suggested a HPV test be added to the cervical screening programme, potentially making it the main test.
This would be done in a similar way to the current smear test, which involves removing cells from the cervix and analysing them for precancerous changes. In this case the cells would be tested for HPV.
Various strains of this virus are found in more than 99% of all cases of cervical cancer. There are around 100 strains altogether, 30 or 40 of which are sexually transmitted. However, only a small number of these are associated with high risk of cervical cancer.