Experts say that making use of a urine test to detect the human papilloma virus may offer females a less invasive alternative to a cervical smear. This may result in a boost in screening rates.
The virus is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections and affects around 80% of sexually active females at some point. Almost all cervical cancer cases are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). There are many strains of HPV that are harmless, but there are some that are able to disrupt the functioning of cells and start cervical cancer.
Currently, smear tests are used for cervical cancer screens. However, researchers based at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry have noticed a downward trend in the choice of the smear test.
Although the screening saves 4500 female lives annually, figures indicate that around one third of females under the age of 35 refuse to undergo the test.
Researchers suggest that this may be due to the invasive nature of the test.
It is for this reason that they made the decision to investigate the effectiveness of urine tests for HPV. They analysed data from 14 studies which involved 1443 females.
The study found that urine tests which identified HPV were 87% more accurate. It also found that 94% of the test which produced negative results was accurate. Urine tests correctly identified 98% of the negative tests and 73% of the positive tests. This led to the conclusion that the accuracy level of urine tests may be suitable for the detection of HPV.
Researchers based at the University of Manchester said that self-controlled HPV testing, either by means of a vaginal swab or a urine test, may offer a potential alternative to tests of cervical samples being done by health professionals.
They stated that self-sampling in well-resourced health systems could be an option for those women who are reluctant to attend regular cervical screening appointments. They added that in lower income countries where there is a lack of infrastructure, self-sampling may be a cost-effective and beneficial option for all females who are eligible for screening.
The researchers said that more research is needed to determine the true clinical performance and acceptability of urine testing for HPV in both cases.
Females between the ages of 25 and 64 in England and Northern Ireland are invited for cervical screening. Those aged 25 to 49 should be screened every three years and those aged between 50 and 64, every five years.
Scotland offers routine screenings every three years to those aged between 20 and 60. From 2015, the age will be extended to 64.
Wales offers screening to women aged between 20 and 64, every three years.
Image Credit: Ed Uthman