CERVICAL cancer cases could be slashed by a fifth by introducing new screening tests, experts said today.
Smear tests are currently used to detect the earliest signs of the disease.
Women between the ages of 25 and 49 are invited for a smear every three years, while those aged 50 to 64 are advised to have a test every five years.
But a new, more accurate test, could see all women having fewer smear tests – every five years.
It comes as The Sun launched the Cheers For Smears campaign, urging all women to make sure they don’t put off their smear tests.
One in three women in the UK are currently overdue a smear – putting them at greater risk of cervical cancer.
‘New test will save lives’
Currently around 2,500 women are told they have cervical cancer every year.
Using the HPV test could save lives, slashing that figure by 400 to 500 cases, the team led by Kings College London scientists said.
They found the new test was “much more accurate” in picking up the abnormal changes to cells that can lead to cervical cancer.
Lead author, Matejka Rebolj, at KCL said the hrHPV test is more sensitive than smear tests.
“This means that the women whose lives can be saved through screening will be better served by the new test,” she said.
“At the same time, women with negative test results will not need to be screened as often as they are now.”
Common STI that causes almost all cervical cancer cases
The scientists examined a new NHS system which means cervical samples are initially tested for human papilloma virus (HPV).
HPV is a common infection spread through close skin-to-skin contact, usually during sex or oral sex.
HPV causes almost all cases of cervical cancer and can also cause cancers in other genital areas, such as the vagina, vulva, penis and anus.
At present, cervical screening samples are examined and those that show possible changes to cells are tested for HPV.
But this is now being switched around, with cells first tested for HPV infection, and only those that have the virus examined for abnormal cells.
New test only needed every five years
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that the new method picked up more cases of pre-cancerous lesions.
First testing for HPV enabled detection of 50 per cent more abnormal changes at grade 2 or worse and 40 per cent more at grade 3 or worse, plus 30 per cent more cases of cervical cancer.
The experts, from a range of UK universities, hospitals and Public Health England, concluded: “At present, 2,500 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in England, with a quarter diagnosed after negative cytology.
“Screening with hrHPV testing would translate to 400-500 fewer cases, or an about 20 per cent decrease in the overall incidence, once hrHPV screening is rolled out nationally.”
The researchers also said the findings supported extended cervical screening to once every five years for low risk women “without increasing the risk of potentially life-threatening disease”.
Early signs you could have cervical cancer
“Not all women diagnosed with cervical cancer have symptoms, which is why it’s really important to attend cervical screening (smear tests) when invited. But, whatever your age, it’s equally important to be aware of cervical cancer symptoms,” Imogen Pinnell, health information manager at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust tells The Sun.
Early symptoms can include:
1. Abnormal bleeding (during or after sex, between periods and also post-menopause)period
The most common and earliest sign of cervical cancer tends to be irregular bleeding.
It happens when the cancer cells grow on the tissue below the cervix.
It’s an especially alarming sign in postmenopausal women who no longer have periods. There’s no age limit to developing cervical cancer.
2. Unusual vaginal discharge
Everyone’s discharge is different, so it’s a case of knowing what is normal for you.
If you find that the colour, smell and consistency has changed, then that’s something you really need to have checked out.
When cancer lacks oxygen, it can cause an infection which leads to strange smelling discharge.
3. Discomfort or pain during sex
Pain during sex can be a sign of a number of different issues, but one is cervical cancer.
Because the disease often comes with no symptoms, pain during intercourse is one of the key indicators. It can be a sign that the cancer is spreading to surrounding tissues.
4. Lower back pain
It could be down to you straining something in the gym, or it could be a warning sign that something’s wrong with your reproductive organs.
Persistent pain – just one off twinges – in the lower back, pelvis or appendix can be a symptom of cervical cancer.
5. Unintended weight loss
While effortless weight loss might sound like the answer to many of our prayers, it’s never a good sign if it happens seemingly without cause.
A loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss tend to be signs that the body isn’t working properly – it’s trying to conserve energy. If you notice that you’re not eating as you normally do, go to your GP.
MORE ON CERVICAL CANCER
Previous US studies have found that screening more frequently than every five years does not substantially improve the benefits for women, but it can increase the number of screening tests and follow-up procedures.
The BMJ study involved six NHS laboratories across England.
Researchers examined data for 578,547 women aged 24 to 64 undergoing cervical screening between May 2013 and December 2014, who were followed up until May 2017.