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Canterbury Health Laboratory evaluating new diagnostic test

September 8, 2011

Canterbury Health Laboratory evaluating new diagnostic test for cervical cancer

Canterbury Health Laboratories (CHL) Microbiology is trialling a new testing method for identifying active Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infections that may lead to the development of cervical cancer.

The current method used by laboratories nationally involves looking for the presence of HPV in a cervical sample, as part of a routine cervical smear for women aged over 30 years.

The Medical Laboratory Scientist leading this evaluation project, Dr Rachel Lyman, says while this method looks for the HPV virus, it is unable to identify those patients who are more likely to progress on to develop cervical cancer.

CHL is currently evaluating a new method looking at an indicator for progression to cancer rather than just the presence of the virus.

“We are testing 500 samples for HPV by both testing methods – which is how we are working to evaluate the effectiveness and potential of this new method,” Dr Lyman says.

She says the new method being evaluated does have the potential to alleviate unnecessary psychological distress caused to those women who receive a positive HPV test and then go on to clear the infection

Background

• CHL is a complete diagnostic reference and research laboratory owned by Canterbury District Health Board. CHL has a long standing history with the cervical screening programme. It was the first laboratory to provide liquid based cytology free of charge to patients in New Zealand, as well as the first laboratory to provide an automated cervical screening service to assist the diagnosis of abnormal cervical smears.

• HPV is a viral infection which can be sexually transmitted. There are many different types of HPV but only a few types are considered ‘high risk, in that they may lead to abnormal cell changes in the cervix. The vast majority of women with HPV infection never get abnormal cervical smears or cervical cancer.

• There is a HPV vaccine that protects against four strains of HPV - two which cause most cervical cancer cases and two others that cause almost all genital wart cases. The vaccine is available free to girls aged12 years old and over from their General Practice team.

ENDS

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