Screening for cervical cancer to be revolutionised with HPV testing

December 4, 2017, University of Sydney
Credit: University of Sydney

Groundbreaking technology patented by University of Sydney researchers will be used in the new National Cervical Screening Program to be implemented in Australia from 1 December 2017.

Based on new evidence and better technology, the National Cervical Screening Program is changing by replacing the traditional pap smear with a new test which detects human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, in effort to improve early detection. While the current Pap test can detect abnormal cell changes, the new Cervical Screening Test will detect HPV infection that can cause the abnormal cell changes prior to the development of . Persistent HPV infection is the cause of almost all cervical cancers. However, this usually takes a long time to develop, often more than 10 years.

The procedure for collecting the sample for HPV testing is the same as the procedure for having a Pap smear – a healthcare provider will still take a small sample of cells from the woman's cervix, and the sample will be sent to a pathology laboratory for testing.

The technology to detect HPV was originally invented by University of Sydney researcher Professor Brian Morris, and Dr Brian Nightingale when in the Department of Clinical Biochemistry at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, who together hold the world's first patent for the HPV technology lodged with the patent office in 1987. The University of Sydney patenting process in the US, Europe, Japan and Australia was funded by Roche Diagnostics.

"It is now well-established that high-risk HPV types are the cause of 99.9 per cent of cervical cancers," said Professor Morris, a molecular biology researcher from Sydney Medical School's Bosch Institute and School of Medical Sciences.

"Testing for HPV is more accurate than pap smears and will save more women from getting cervical cancer. The pap smear was invented over 70 years ago, so the change is welcome.

"The Australian Government has recognised the superiority of HPV testing, so from 1 December we will switch to HPV testing for primary of women in Australia.

"After three decades of hard work, I am very pleased that these changes are happening.

"The next step to further improve cervical screening is to make these tests more readily available to women, especially those who live in remote areas, are too busy, or who for religious or other reasons are averse to traditional sample collection, via a home-collection kit.

"We're currently working on making available a test where women can collect their own sample at home and mail to a lab for testing. Their nominated doctor would then be informed of the result and tell them if they need to attend for further examination.

"Being a molecular test that involves DNA (which is quite stable), the test lends itself to self-sampling at home by means of a tampon or other device. This will potentially improve uptake of cervical screening tests and prevent further cancers."

The technology used in the HPV testing is called 'the polymerase chain reaction' (PCR). At the time of Morris and Nightingale's invention, PCR had been developed to test for mutations in beta-globin that cause the genetic blood disease Thalassemia. The researcher's test was the first use of PCR for viral detection, specifically for detection of cancer-causing strains of human papillomavirus (HPV).

Human Papilloma Virus fast facts:

  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common infection in females and males.
  • Many people will have HPV at some time in their lives and never know it.
  • There are more than 100 different types of HPV that can affect different parts of the body. HPV types 16 and 18 are those most commonly associated with cervical cancer. But over 10 other cancer-causing HPV types will be detected by the new . Genital HPV is spread by genital skin to genital skin contact.
  • Most HPV infections clear up by themselves without causing any problems. Persistent genital HPV infections can cause cervical abnormalities, which, if they continue over a long period (usually more than 10 years), can lead to cervical cancer.
  • It is important to remember that most women who have HPV clear the virus and do not go on to develop cervical abnormalities or cervical cancer.

Explore further: Screening, HPV vaccine can prevent cervical cancer: FDA

Related Stories

Screening, HPV vaccine can prevent cervical cancer: FDA

February 8, 2017
(HealthDay)—Women can reduce their risk of cervical cancer through vaccination and screening, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

5 things you should know about cervical cancer

December 1, 2017
(HealthDay)—A little knowledge can go a long way in the fight against cervical cancer.

HPV jab means women only need 3 cervical screens in a lifetime

November 10, 2017
Women may only need three cervical screens in their lifetime if they have been given the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Cancer today (Friday).

HPV testing is better than the Pap test at detecting cervical cancer

November 14, 2017
A new paper in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute finds that testing for cervical cancer using HPV testing in addition to the Pap smear is unlikely to detect cancer cases that wouldn't be found using HPV testing ...

Previous screening results important for decision about smear tests after age 60

October 25, 2017
Being screened again after the age of 60 reduces the risk of cervical cancer in women who have previously had abnormal smear tests and in women who did not have smear tests in their 50s, researchers at Karolinska Institutet ...

HPV testing leads to earlier detection and treatment of cervical pre-cancer

June 22, 2017
Women who receive human papillomavirus (HPV) testing, in addition to a pap smear, receive a faster, more complete diagnosis of possible cervical precancer, according to a study of over 450,000 women by Queen Mary University ...

Recommended for you

Lab-grown 'mini tumours' could personalise cancer treatment

February 23, 2018
Testing cancer drugs on miniature replicas of a patient's tumour could help doctors tailor treatment, according to new research.

Study tracks evolutionary transition to destructive cancer

February 23, 2018
Evolution describes how all living forms cope with challenges in their environment, as they struggle to persevere against formidable odds. Mutation and selective pressure—cornerstones of Darwin's theory—are the means ...

Researchers use a molecular Trojan horse to deliver chemotherapeutic drug to cancer cells

February 23, 2018
A research team at the University of California, Riverside has discovered a way for chemotherapy drug paclitaxel to target migrating, or circulating, cancer cells, which are responsible for the development of tumor metastases.

An under-the-radar immune cell shows potential in fight against cancer

February 23, 2018
One of the rarest of immune cells, unknown to scientists a decade ago, might prove to be a potent weapon in stopping cancer from spreading in the body, according to new research from the University of British Columbia.

Putting black skin cancer to sleep—for good

February 22, 2018
An international research team has succeeded in stopping the growth of malignant melanoma by reactivating a protective mechanism that prevents tumor cells from dividing. The team used chemical agents to block the enzymes ...

Cancer risk associated with key epigenetic changes occurring through normal aging process

February 22, 2018
Some scientists have hypothesized that tumor-promoting changes in cells during cancer development—particularly an epigenetic change involving DNA methylation—arise from rogue cells escaping a natural cell deterioration ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.