A more accurate test for cell changes that could lead to cervical cancer has been developed by scientists.
When tested for cervical cancer, it performed better than currently available methods for detecting those with advanced cell changes who need treatment. For those without cell changes, but who had human papillomavirus (HPV) - which causes most cases of cervical cancer - it detected 55% of people who would have cell changes in the next four years.
The new study, published in the journal Genome Medicine, included 1,254 cervical screening samples from women with cell changes ranging from lower to high risk, women with HPV but no cervical cell changes, and samples from women without any cervical cell changes who went on to develop high-risk cell changes within four years.
For the study, experts looked at DNA methylation, which acts as an extra layer of information on top of DNA.
DNA contains all the genes people inherit from both their parents, while DNA methylation tells cells which bits of DNA to read, with factors such as smoking, pollution, poor diet and being overweight being able to alter these markers and change how the cell behaves.
Scientists think that by looking closely at DNA methylation, they can detect cancer and possibly predict the risk someone has of developing cancer in the future. The test can also pick up DNA markers for some other cancers, meaning it could in future be used as a predictive test for breast, womb, cervical and ovarian cancer.
Previous studies on the new test using cervical samples have suggested accuracy in predicting women with breast or ovarian cancer.
Professor Martin Widschwendter, from University College London’s department of women’s cancer, said: “Vaccination against the virus that causes cervical cancer is now widely implemented and is leading to changes in the amount and types of the virus circulating in the community.
“In turn, our approaches to cervical screening must adapt so that programmes continue to deliver benefit.
“Importantly, our other work has shown how testing the same cervical sample can also deliver information on a woman’s risk of three other major cancers – breast, ovarian and womb cancers.
“Building new, holistic, risk-predictive screening programmes around existing, effective cervical sample collection offers real potential for cancer prevention in the future.”