Cervical cancer can be detected at home using a self-test tested by a Quebec researcher

A self-screening test tested by a Quebec researcher could improve the prevention of a cancer that kills dozens of women in Quebec each year, in addition to relieving congestion in the health system.

“We found that women are much more comfortable doing the sampling themselves at home rather than waiting for their doctor’s appointment,” says Dr.D Jessica Ruel-Laliberté, gynecologist and researcher at the Sherbrooke University Hospital Research Center. In addition to reaching more women potentially victims of cervical cancer, this test at the experimental stage would avoid congesting the health system, she adds.

For five years, this specialist in gynecological cancers has been carrying out work aimed at detecting the presence of the human papillomavirus (HPV) more quickly and more universally, particularly among vulnerable populations. Women who do not have a family doctor are particularly at risk, because they do not necessarily think about getting tested for a virus that is often asymptomatic.

The gynecologist participated in screening activities in Estrie where more than 300 women could present in a single day. But these clinics have been suspended due to COVID-19 prevention measures. She looked for another way to reach women; This is how she came up with the idea for this self-administered test. Ten seconds is enough for women to take a sample from the vagina themselves; they then send it by post to the collection center.

“It wasn’t happening in Canada, but the Netherlands and Australia had similar campaigns. We took inspiration from this to set up our research protocol.”

Three to five years of waiting

The results of his research, published earlier this fall in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Canada, are conclusive. In addition to a good response rate (310 women participated), the samples proved reliable enough to be analyzed and almost 12% of women received a positive HPV diagnosis.

“What is particularly interesting is that almost all of the women appreciated this method. No less than 96% of participants preferred this screening method to the conventional approach, at the doctor’s office,” continues her research partner, gynecologist Jessica Paré.

Even if this self-test does not replace the Pap test, which aims to diagnose precancerous conditions of the vagina or cervix (this is the next step), this approach could prevent women from resorting to private screening services. offered on Clic Santé.

Julie Bestman-Smith, microbiologist-infectious disease specialist at the CHU de Québec-Université Laval and co-signatory of the article, is delighted with the results obtained, but mentions that we will have to be patient before seeing kits available in pharmacies or in the mailbox . It won’t be “for three to five years,” she laments.

This is the delay that should be expected under the approval studies of the National Institute of Excellence in Health and Social Services.

“Avoidable deaths”

Approximately 1,350 Canadian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and nearly 30% of them die from it. To reduce this mortality, early HPV screening has long been recognized. If the test is positive, the woman is treated quickly.

“No less than 99.9% of cases of uterine cancer that we see in our clinics are caused by this sexually transmitted virus. Given that we can easily get rid of them with a vaccine, these are preventable deaths,” explains the DD Ruel-Laliberté.

Over the past year, she has counted three deaths in her own clinic from complications of cervical cancer. “There is an over-representation of young women in their thirties in the statistics,” she laments.

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