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Cheaper Test for Cervical Cancer to Benefit Developing Countries

Women in China and other developing countries could benefit from a faster and cheaper test which detects a virus directly related to cervical cancer.

The new test, called the fast test for HPV, the human papillomavirus, was accurate 90 percent of the time during clinical trials on more than two thousand women in northern China's Shanxi province, said epidemiologist Qiao You-lin.

"The fast test, or careHPV can identify 14 strains of HPV including HPV 16 and 18 in about 2.5 hours, thus letting us more effectively and accurately detect cervical cancer and precancerous lesions," said Qiao, who headed up the trials. "The care HPV, designed by Qiagen, changes the history of man's battle against cervical cancer in the developing world."

Cervical cancer affects 466,000 women a year, with more than 100,000 cases occurring in China.

The findings were published in the London-based "Lancet Oncology" issue September 22.

Next to breast cancer, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer for women worldwide. More than 80 per cent of cases are found among women in developing countries and areas. Among Chinese women, 80 of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV type 16 or 18.

The careHPV test can be done without running water and medics in rural areas could do it with minimal training. Its very different from the two existing screening methods -- Pap Smear or liquid-based cytology.

The smear test, invented in 1941, is the world's most common screening method and has reduced cases of cervical cancer by 80 per cent worldwide.

Yet, Qiao noticed smear test results in developing countries are often unreliable, with poor techniques of obtaining the samples and analyzing them.

He believes the smear test, despite its success, is difficult to promote in rural China.

"It requires a fair amount of money to establish a high-standard cytologic testing system and well-trained cytologists, who can accurately identify the cells scraped from the cervix," said Qiao.

Although vaccines against HPV are now available in many countries, they are too costly for Chinese women at large. Also, vaccines can only prevent 70 percent of cervical cancers, and do not work for those already exposed to the virus. Therefore, screening remains crucial to keep cancer at bay.

With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, careHPV research started in 2005 and has been carried out in low-resource places like Jiangxi, Guansu and Shanxi provinces.

"If women get screened at least once in their lifetimes with the careHPV test, followed by the appropriate treatments, the incidence and morality rate of cervical cancer would be reduced by a third," says John Sellors, one of the researchers who is also professor of Family Medicine at the McMaster University in Canada.

(Xinhua News Agency October 3, 2008)

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