Home » Women's healthcare » A breakthrough in HPV screening: a hope to defeat cervical cancer

Monika Destruelle

Sr. EMEA Product Manager, HPV

Cervical cancer ranks as the second most common cause of cancer deaths in women aged 15 to 44 and the ninth most frequent cancer among women in Europe.

Despite the vigorous NHS cervical cancer screening programme in the UK and high-profile campaigns to encourage younger women to attend for testing (such as one prompted by the death of TV personality Jade Goody), there is still a high percentage of women not showing up.

Cervical screening is available for people with a cervix aged 25 to 64 in England. In the past few years, statistics have shown that there is a small year-on-year decline in the number of women attending.

In 2020–21, 4.59 million individuals were invited for screening (a 1% decrease from the previous year). Of those, 70.2% of eligible individuals were adequately screened.

Reasons for skipping

Monika Destruelle, European Product Manager HPV for global medical technology company BD, says there is a myriad of reasons for the 30% or so women who do not go for screening.

“It might be that they feel too embarrassed, hold certain religious beliefs, find it uncomfortable, or they will skip their appointment that day because they simply didn’t have time,” she says.

“Over half of all cervical cancers are diagnosed in women who have never been screened or have not been screened in the previous five years — a situation that has been compounded by the global pandemic. There were large disruptions in services and programmes.”

Every woman that is screened is a gain because for every type of cancer we can avoid, there is a life behind it.

Elimination goal

Now, things are set to improve with the arrival of an at-home, self-collection method of testing. Additionally, in 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched its global strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer.

“WHO has the goal to reduce the cervical cancer incidence below 4 per 100,000 women per year – that is their target,” says Destruelle. “At-home, self-collection has the most potential to help address the urgent public health challenge of reaching women who do not regularly attend or have access to cervical cancer screening.”

The BD Onclarity™ HPV assay, with extended genotyping, received one of the industry’s first at-home, self-collection claim for HPV screening (CE-marked).  It is approved for use with samples collected using appropriate devices outside of healthcare facilities.

What makes this technological breakthrough special is that it has been able to combine laboratory testing techniques with simultaneous genotyping. The assay detects and identifies 14 high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) types in a single analysis and provides genotyping information from specimens collected for cervical cancer screening processes.

Home collection kits

Destruelle explains: “If a woman is exposed to any of those 14 genotypes for a longer time, the cells may change and transform into cancer cells with very different risks between them.”

“We believe that self-collection can really help to increase participation. Every woman that is screened is a gain because for every type of cancer we can avoid, there is a life behind it.

“In the future, it will eventually become the routine method for screening because of other factors like the rapidly decreasing workforce and the increasing need to make cost savings.”

The home collection kit will comprise of a swab and instructions on how to do the quick test. It is then returned to the relevant testing labs via posting. BD is currently going through validation processes with the NHS and screening laboratories to make the kits available here within the next three to five years.

Destruelle says: “However, screening alone is not enough. Only with a combination of good screening programmes and HPV vaccinations, will we eventually reach our goal of eradicating this type of cancer.”

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