Cervical cancer is the 12th most common form of cancer in the UK with 3,100 new cases being diagnosed in 2011. For women under 35, it is the most frequently occurring cancer.
Currently cervical cancer is detected through a smear test which is offered to all women over the age of 25. This involves taking a sample of cells from the cervix and examining them under a microscope to assess whether any pre-cancerous changes have occurred. Further, a more sensitive test has recently been developed which looks specifically at DNA from the cells to assess whether the human papilloma virus (HPV) is present: the majority of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV.
However, the issue with these tests is that many women are not attending screenings often enough, or at all, because they are either worried about the procedure or lack the time. One possible solution to this problem would be to use a simple urine test to detect the virus. This is what 14 recent clinical trials have tested and a review of these compared their accuracy to the new DNA test; it showed that 87% of HPV positive samples and 94% of negative samples were correctly identified. This suggests that, while there is currently no information on how it compares to a traditional smear test, this could be a more favourable alternative for some women and could lead to more cases of cervical cancer being diagnosed earlier.
However, the issue with both the urine and DNA test is that while a negative result would suggest the chance of developing cervical cancer in the near future is highly unlikely, a positive result does not necessarily mean you have cervical cancer and therefore is not entirely helpful when it comes to diagnosis. Overall, while this urine test is unlikely to replace a traditional smear test entirely it may be an effective tool for women who do not normally attend screenings or for women who live in areas of the world where a lack of healthcare facilities prevents widespread screening.