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New cervical cancer test promises wider reach
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Women in China and other developing countries could benefit from a faster and cheaper test that detects a virus directly related to cervical cancer, the second most common cancer for women worldwide, a new study has found.

The new test for the human papillomavirus (HPV) was reportedly accurate 90 percent of the time during clinical trials on more than 2,000 women in Shanxi province, said epidemiologist Qiao You-lin, who headed the trials.

"The fast test, or careHPV, can identify 14 strains of HPV including HPV 16 and 18 in about 2.5 hours, thus letting us more effectively and accurately detect cervical cancer and precancerous lesions," Qiao, whose team's findings were published in the London-based medical journal Lancet Oncology's Sept 22 issue, said.

"The careHPV, designed by Qiagen, changes the history of man's battle against cervical cancer in the developing world," Qiao said.

Cervical cancer is said to affect 466,000 women a year, with more than 100,000 cases occurring in China. It ranks after breast cancer as the most common cancer among women globally.

More than 80 per cent of cervical cancer cases are found among women in developing countries and areas. Among Chinese women, 80 of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV type 16 or 18.

The careHPV test can reportedly be carried out without running water, with medics in rural areas using it with minimal training. It is said to be very different from existing screening methods such as the Pap Smear and liquid-based cytology.

The smear test, invented in 1941, is considered the most common screening method and has reduced cases of cervical cancer by 80 percent worldwide.

Still, Qiao said smear test results in developing countries are often unreliable, with poor techniques of obtaining the samples and analyzing them.

He believes the smear test, despite its success, is difficult to promote in rural China.

"It requires a fair amount of money to establish a high-standard cytologic testing system and well-trained cytologists, who can accurately identify the cells scraped from the cervix," Qiao said.

Although vaccines against HPV are now available in many countries, they are considered too costly for most Chinese women.

Also, vaccines can only prevent 70 percent of cervical cancers, and reportedly do not work for those already exposed to the virus. Therefore, screening is said to remain crucial in keeping cancer at bay.

(Xinhua News Agency October 3, 2008)

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