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Friday, June 24, 2011

A better test for cervical cancer



KUALA LUMPUR: Women can find out if they are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer through a new human papillomavirus (HPV) test.

The test, cobas 4800 HPV, has a 95 per cent accuracy rate, which is an improvement over the conventional pap smear's 55 per cent rate.

Defence Ministry health services director-general Lt-Gen Datuk Dr Abdul Razak Yusoff said pap smear screening often gave a normal reading because it did not always differentiate abnormal cells from normal cells but HPV testing picked it up.

Compared to the annual requirement of the pap smear, women only have to take the HPV test once every three years.

The test, costing RM200 to RM250, overcomes the limitations of pap smear screening which misses 50 per cent of pre-cancer cells, Dr Razak said at a press conference yesterday.

He said the test identified 14 types of high-risk HPV strains but that women with HPV 16 or 18 were likelier to develop cervical cancer.

"HPV 16 and 18 cause 70 per cent of all cervical cancer cases." 

More than 600 Malaysian women die every year from cervical cancer and the number is expected to increase by 40 per cent by 2025 if the virus is left untreated. 

Dr Razak said without effective prevention programmes, cervical cancer would take over as the leading cause of cancer for women in the country.

"Women are encouraged to take the HPV test if they are sexually active. It takes between five and six hours to get the results." 

Hospital Angkatan Tentera Tuanku Mizan's head and consultant pathologist Col Dr R. Kunaseegaran said the new technology used DNA testing to search for the presence of the virus.

"Previously, the pap smear was insensitive as cervical cancer was detected through cell changes on the cervix. "Now, the HPV looks for a virus finger print to detect the cancer," he said.

Dr Kunaseegaran said, however, that HPV was a novel test and did not replace the conventional pap smear.

"We have a spectrum of tests available to the public, including the pap smear, as some people may not be able to afford the cost of the HPV test." 

The test is available through laboratory chains like Clinipath, Lablink, Biolife Lab and Prince Court Medical Centre. - NST

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