HPV blood test not effective for cervical cancer screening

A new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Virology, suggests blood serum tests are not a good cervical cancer screening tool. Using a highly sensitive test that amplifies small samples of DNA, a University of Michigan-led research team failed to detect any evidence of two high-risk HPV strains in patients known to have infections.

Serum, a blood component which contains neither white nor red blood cells, is used in numerous diagnostic tests.

“The previous studies suggesting that HPV could be found in serum were not confirmed,” says senior author Mack T. Ruffin IV, M.D., M.P.H., professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. “Our findings were not consistent with HPV infection releasing virus into the bloodstream. So, other blood tests to find cervical cancer early will need to take a different approach.”

Researchers tested 116 serum samples taken from women ages 18-69 at urban public hospitals in Detroit and Atlanta. More than half of the women had cervical HPV 16 or HPV 18 infections — strains of HPV which together cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute. All of the serum samples, however, tested negative for HPV DNA.

Each year nearly 12,300 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,000 die from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Because cervical cancer is considered preventable, finding accurate, less invasive ways to detect disease early remains a high scientific priority,” concludes the study’s lead author, Divya A. Patel, Ph.D., M.P.H., who is now at the Yale School of Medicine.

Funding: The research was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute.

Additional U-M author: Anthony W. Opipari, M.D., Ph.D.

Other authors: Elizabeth R. Unger, M.D., Ph.D., CDC; Heather Walline, Ph.D., Sequenom Center for Molecular Medicine; Daisy R. Lee, M.S., CDC; Lisa C. Flowers, M.D., Emory University School of Medicine.

Reference: “Lack of HPV 16 and 18 detection in serum of colposcopy clinic patients,” Journal of Clinical Virology, published online Feb. 8, 2011.


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