HPV and cervical cancer

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted infection. Amongst other effects, it can cause cervical cancer. Of the more than 80 different types of HPV, however, only some are potentially harmful. They are known as high-risk viruses (hr-HPV). A mass screening programme has been set up to detect them.

HPV vaccination and cervical cancer screening

An HPV vaccine is available and provides protection against about 95 per cent of potential infections. Even so, mass screening remains a vital tool. This is because there are still questions about the vaccine’s long-term effectiveness. So at least for some years to come, screening will be retained as an important means of detecting and preventing cervical cancer, whether or not the subject has been vaccinated. Women found not to be carrying hr-HPV need to be recalled less often for follow-up screening, which can significantly reduce the number of referrals and the amount of unnecessary treatment.

The HPV Decision Tool

As mentioned above, the HPV vaccination protects against the virus. Yet not everyone chooses to be vaccinated. To change this, research institute TNO and Maastricht University have created an online HPV Decision Tool (only in Dutch). ZonMw provided funding to develop the website and for research into its effectiveness. The tool helps young people, both male and female, to decide whether vaccination is right for them. As well as highlighting the fact that HPV can cause several types of cancer, including cervical cancer, it addresses each individual user’s own questions and concerns so they can make an informed choice that suits them.

ZonMw Pearl project: cervical cancer self-screening

Using an easy-to-insert device, women can now collect a sample for cervical cancer screening at home. After years of research into the development of this form of cancer, Professor Chris Meijer of the Department of Pathology at VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam decided to seek an alternative for women who do not want to undergo a smear test. With the help of a Life Sciences Pre-Seed Grant, this resulted in the creation of the company Self-Screen, which produces a home test that offers users a sufficient degree of certainty about their risk of developing cancer. For this outstanding research outcome, Professor Meijer has been awarded a Pearl by ZonMw. You can read more about Self-Screen in this Dutch article.