Cervical Cancer Encouraging News: At-Home HPV Test Shows Promise for At-Risk Communities
For women who lack readily available health care services, the cancer statistics are often deadly. They are why we raise the question: is an at-home HPV test that shows promise for at-risk communities important? The short answer is a resounding yes. For example, studies show that black women exhibit a higher rate of the disease and often suffer a poorer prognosis after their diagnosis. Further, in the Latino community, the pap smear test is not widely accepted. An at-home swab test may attract more women to commit to the test. The following paragraphs detail how important it is to know more about it.
How Pervasive Is HPV?
The Human Papillomavirus, more familiarly known as HPV, links several human cancers prevalent in the United States, including cervical cancer. Physicians diagnose new cases of HPV in approximately 14 million people each year, in both men and women.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that 4,000 women die annually from cervical cancer and that HPV causes 90% of cervical cancers. HPV can also cause vulva and vaginal cancer. Further, the CDC says that about 200,000 women exhibit cervical infection that may lead to cervical cancer, and that HPV, a sexually transmitted disease, causes 11,000 cervical cancer cases.
Cancers can take decades to develop from an HPV infection. Like other cancers, screening is critical to treating cervical disease.
What Is the Typical Precancerous Screening Test?
Cervical precancerous symptoms are treatable if found early. Typically, physicians encourage women to get annual, routine pap smear tests and follow-up exams. Thus, gynecologists can identify problems before they become cervical cancer. The pap smear test collects tissue from the cervix to identify abnormal growth in cells, or precancerous cells. Most patients experience the test as a small internal pinch.
Doctors recommend that even sexually active individuals with one partner get a pap smear. Further, pap tests are generally administered to women between the ages of 21 and 65.
To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, this is one of those healthcare issues where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment. Found too late, there often is no cure.
What Is the New In-Home Screening Test?
In 2020, the National Cancer Institute announced that it will undertake a 2021 study to see whether the efficacy and value of a new at-home HPV test compare favorably to in-office pap smears. The study will include 5,000 women at multiple test sites. Researchers say the test can accurately identify a woman’s future risk of cervical cancer by identifying “methylated DNA fragments”.
Methylation refers to a DNA molecule that appears to exhibit the addition of three hydrogen atoms bound to a carbon atom (known to scientists as a methyl group). DNA methylation is critical to diagnosing cervical cancer because high levels of methylated DNA molecules or fragments indicate that the precancerous condition is more likely to advance to cancerous cells.
Researchers say that a woman using the at-home test swabs herself with a tiny brush. The brush accumulates cell samples from the swab site as well as the surrounding tissue. That means that the at-home swab takes samples from a larger area than a pap smear does in the doctor’s office. The woman then mails the sample to the lab and waits for results which researchers anticipate will come back within two weeks. The cervical cancer at-home test concept is similar to popular at-home colon-screening tests.
If sampling at-home proves efficacious, the hope is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will fast-track approval of the test. The test will then become a part of the FDA’s cervical cancer screening guidelines. The further hope is that the FDA will team up with companies to smooth the program’s path.
The National Cancer Institute anticipates spending around $6 million in federal dollars to oversee the study and the data analysis.
Under Whose Auspices Was the At-Home HPV Test Developed?
Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures licensed the methylation test to LifeGene Bio-Marks which is a Johns Hopkins’ offshoot. David Sidransky, MD, and LifeGene Bio-Marks received two grants from the US Small Business Administration (SBA) totaling $1.5 million. The SBA distributed the grants from its Small Business Innovation Research program.
Other Countries Already Self-Sample. Why Not the US?
Australia and the Netherlands promote self-sampling for cervical cancer. Up until now, the US lags behind.
In the US, healthcare is often tied to a person’s employment. This creates several impediments to office testing that make self-sampling a positive alternative:
- Without a national healthcare program like other countries have, many women find access to health care, or the cost of such care, prohibitive
- Some women may lack child care or do not have paid sick leave from their employment to attend office appointments
- In pandemic conditions, like the COVID-19 pandemic today, the very thought of going to a doctor’s office is frightening to many people
- Transportation costs to and from doctor appointments often are not reimbursed by insurance and is often an issue
In addition, while most insurance plans may cover cervical screening tests done in the doctor’s office, not every woman has the luxury of employer-provided healthcare. She may also not be cognizant of any public programs that pay for such testing.
Learn More About an At-Home HPV Test
Pending the outcome of the study, getting a pelvic exam in the physician’s office remains the most reliable way to detect if anything is wrong with a woman’s cervix. In-office pap smears are the most reliable way to detect cervical cancer.
To talk more about this topic, or anything else, please contact us. Indeed, we will be happy to discuss with you how our single-use devices enable simpler, safer, and brighter healthcare outcomes. Our medical products help physicians give safe and effective in-office pap smears.
To read more about at-home HPV tests, you may enjoy the March 2020 article from the University of Washington’s The Daily article from dwu.com entitled “HPV Self-Testing Mail-In Kits Can Help Detect Cervical Cancer“.