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Better DNA Tests of the Future

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 29 Jun 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
Dna Tests Future Pap Smear Gynaecologist

Diagnostic tests are vital to detecting disease earlier rather than later but improving upon these tests remains a critical aspect of science and medicine. DNA testing has already had a significant, positive impact on healthcare and with a new DNA test, it appears poised to continue to improve our detection methods for disease.

DNA for Virus Testing

Recently, a test was devised to detect the virus that causes cervical cancer. While we have current methods in place for this kind of testing, the DNA test is thought to be a major improvement and far more accurate than the traditional Pap smear that is used on women around the world.

Replacing a Pap Smear Test

In fact, the test is considered advanced to the extent that some gynaecologists are calling for it to completely replace these traditional Pap smear tests. It is believed that the test for human papillomavirus (HPV) could save the lives of many women.

Rather than a woman taking a Pap smear test each year, they could instead have the DNA test done once every three to ten years. The frequency has yet to be established but experts are citing different time spans, which further research would hopefully pinpoint.

An Eight-Year Study

The results are based on a study that lasted eight years and looked at over a hundred thousand women in India. It was found that this one screening via a DNA test was superior to all other kinds of screening for the prevention of cancer and mortality.

Whether gynaecologists can comfortably stop using Pap smears will be a social issue in that using the DNA test requires a major medical shift. It can be difficult for health professionals to essentially abandon a test that has been very effective and used for decades to detect cancer in women.

Old Testing vs New DNA Testing

In the traditional Pap test, a woman has cells scraped from her cervix, which are then sent to the laboratory to be stained and examined via a microscope. The pathologist conducting the examination will look for abnormal cells under the microscope. The test can also take a number of days to weeks before results are sent back.

In the new DNA test, a woman would still require a scraping of cells from her cervix, but these cells would be prepared and read by a machine. The study has major implications for women in poor countries because Pap smears are not performed regularly, sometimes due to a lack of medical professionals who are trained to perform the procedure.

Also, women do not always return to the doctor for the results, which means a woman could have cancerous or pre-cancerous cells, but will never know because she doesn't follow up with another doctor's visit.

Less Screening

As mentioned, the DNA test would not require the annual screening in the United States nor the typical screening every three years here in Britain. This would make it more cost effective as well. The new DNA test takes less than three hours for analysis of the cells, thus providing rapid results for women.

DNA Tests for a Better Future

Clearly, this is exciting news because Pap smears aren't accessible for all women plus they require quite regular visits and relatively long wait times for results. But with the new DNA test, it's hoped more research is performed to assess a suitable frequency for testing.

Also, more work will need to be done in terms of changing the perceptions of physicians about potentially giving up the Pap test that they are so familiar with today. The benefits of this DNA test, however, are simply too significant to ignore.

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