Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a common infection affecting both women and men. It’s transmitted through sexual contact and in most cases, the infection clears itself up with no noticeable symptoms. But some types of HPV can cause cervical cancer in women, and cancers of the genitals, mouth and throat in both men and women.
Detecting HPV involves getting a sample of cells from the cervix using a small brush. Women sometimes report feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed getting this test, and research has suggested that some women avoid getting checked for personal or cultural reasons.
Could there be another option to help these women get screened for what can be a deadly disease?
A recent UK study looked at whether a urine test could help to detect women at risk of developing cervical cancer. More than a hundred women were first asked to take their own urine sample, then their own brush sample from the vagina. Then, a cervical sample of each woman was taken by a doctor.
All of the women were asked how they felt about the three tests in terms of their comfort and ease. A laboratory took the samples to determine which contained high-risk HPV, so the researchers could compare the relative success of each of the testing techniques (urine, self-sample of vagina and doctor sample of cervix).
All the women involved in the study were older than 25, and many of them were between 25 and 29.
The researchers found that a urine test was a fairly good way to test for high-risk HPV among this group of women. It was almost as sensitive as vaginal and cervical samples at picking up problems, though those methods were still superior.
39 of the women surveyed said they’d prefer to provide a urine sample, compared to a vaginal sample (32 women) or cervical sample (17).
The authors say this is a positive indicator for the use of urine testing to detect high-risk HPV, though they caution that the study is small and would need to be shown to work in much larger groups of people.
In Australia, self-testing for HPV with a vaginal sample is available for eligible women – those over 30 who have never had a cervical screening test and who are overdue for screening.