CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers are studying the value of a new biomarker for improving cervical cancer screening.
The clinical trial will examine cervical smears for telomerase, a protein released into cells when chromosomes shorten, stick together and become genetically unstable. The protein helps rebuild eroded telomeres, the caps at the ends of chromosomes. Its presence in cervical cells removed during Pap smear testing may help predict those women who are at greatest risk for developing cancer.
"Pap smear screening has been very effective at decreasing the number of deaths from cervical cancer. But many of the abnormal results it produces do not lead to an increased risk of cancer," says Dr. John Boggess, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UNC-CH School of Medicine and member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. "A lot of women undergo expensive testing and painful procedures only to find out they've got something that doesn't need treatment or is unlikely to become cancer."
According to the UNC gynecologic oncologist, Pap smear sensitivity is only 70% and can be as low as 50% in women with ulceration and inflammation of the cervix, conditions commonly found in women with cancer. Over 2.5 million abnormal Pap smears are reported in the U.S. per year.
"Of these the majority represent minimally abnormal cytology, or ASCUS, atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance or LGSIL, low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions, and less than one percent represent invasive lesions."
The current standard of medical care, notes Boggess, calls for
assessment of two consecutive minimally abnormal Pap smears by colposcopy - a
technique where the cervix is examined with a magnifying instrument and biopsies
of suspicious lesions are taken to rule-out cancer. He notes that most biopsy
diangoses from women with minimally abnormal Pap sm
Contact: Lynn Wooten
University of North Carolina School of Medicine