HPV testing ‘could eliminate cervical cancer’

It is possible to eliminate cervical cancer in Irish women within a generation with HPV testing and vaccination, the Irish Cancer Society has said.

The current smear test detects abnormal cells that may develop into cancer if left untreated. HPV testing is used to examine the presence of the virus.

The Irish Cancer Society, together with the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, held an event in Dublin yesterday in a bid to restore confidence following the CervicalCheck controversy.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Simon Harris said he was committed to introducing HPV testing as the country’s primary cervical screening method this year.

“He (the minister) has ensured that extra resources are being deployed to work intensively on this,” said the spokesperson.

Chair-elect of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Dr Cliona Murphy, said HPV testing would detect 20% more precancerous abnormalities.

Also, 30% more cervical cancer cases and deaths would be avoided for every screening test carried out compared with the current screening strategy.

However, experts at the event stressed that speed in the implementation of HPV testing should not be at the price of quality.

A move to primary HPV testing must be accompanied by a targeted information campaign on the benefits and limitations of screening.

Adequate resources had to be provided to deal with an increased demand for treatments resulting from more precancerous abnormalities being detected.

Dr Murphy said primary HPV testing would not be perfect.

“Like the current smear test, not all abnormalities will be spotted before they become cancerous. But international studies show that HPV testing can find more pre-cancers and increase detection to about four-in-five cervical abnormalities, compared to three-in-five that are found through the current smear test system.”

Head of research at the Irish Cancer Society, Dr Robert O’Connor, said Irish women deserve the best possible services when it comes to the safe prevention and early detection of cancer.

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