Roughly 3,000 women in the UK are affected by cervical cancer each year
In the kind of groundbreaking discovery that every oncologist dreams of, researchers have pinpointed the cells that lead to cervical cancer. This paves the way for easier diagnosis, prevention and cure.
Researchers from A*STAR’s Institute of Medical Biology and Genome Institute of Singapore and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, USA wanted to find out why cervical cancers caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) only occur in a very specific part of the cervix. Although HPV can be found anywhere within the genital tract, the cancer always develops in one very small part of the cervix, so scientists believed location could be a key to unlocking its cause. And so it proved. The researchers found cells that produce biomarkers of cervical cancer only in that one specific area. Identifying such cells is a surefire way to diagnose precancer, which means that women who might be at risk – those who are known to have contracted certain types of HPV, for example – could get treatment more quickly and effectively.
More good news came when the researchers discovered that removing the specialised cells via biopsy was effective in the long term because the cells did not reappear, indicating that surgical removal could be an effective preventive treatment.
Around 3,000 women in the UK are affected by cervical cancer each year. As the cancer is linked to HPV, a sexually transmitted infection, many older women might wrongly assume they don’t need to be concerned about having regular smear tests, but this is why they suffer higher mortality rates from the disease than younger women. Four out of five people carry HPV and because there’s no way of knowing how long a cancer will take to develop, many women may have cervical cancer without realising it if they don’t have regular checks.