Find out about the latest UK research and clinical trials looking at cervical cancer.
Ash: I was offered a place on a trial by my cancer nurse
Jean: There was a new trial with new drugs and they were confident it would work and they offered it to me and I’m so glad I took it.
Nilesh: What we did, my wife and I, was to do some research on the internet. We came across the source trial which is what I went on and we took that to the doctor and then requested that we be put on to that.
Amy: The only thing that did sort of trouble us as a family when they did tell us was that it was possibly quite painful and there may be some side effects that they didn’t know about.
Ash: I was quite concerned about taking part in a trial because you hear the word trial and you think its test.
Nilesh: You know you hear about trials, clinical trials, drug trials things like that. My reservations were what the side effects were going to be.
Ash: I decided it was the right thing for me because it would potentially offer patients in the future less side effect risk.
Jean: There were lots of questions I had to ask and they were all answered and I was confident in going through the trial and the after care.
Nilesh: Right from day one they’ve been monitoring me. You know I have regular checkups and all that.
Amy: Any symptoms that arose with Poppy, somebody was always there to make sure that she wasn’t in any pain or any suffering.
Ash: I didn’t feel that they were hiding anything from me which when you’re talking about a clinical trial is so important.
Jean: It’s a really warm feeling knowing that what you did has helped other people.
Nilesh: I just hope that I played a part in a new drug that’s out there.
Ash: For other patients and also for society in general.
Nilesh: You’ve got to feel comfortable about the trial itself before you sign up for it. So do your background knowledge and just be 100% that that’s where you want to go.
Ash: Think about it very carefully. Read all of the background literature and ask lots and lots of questions because there’s no harm in doing that.
Research into the symptoms of cervical cancer
A UK study wanted to find out more about the symptoms and experiences that young women had before being diagnosed with cervical cancer.
The study team found that many of the women (aged 18 to 29) didn't know the symptoms of cervical cancer and delayed going to see the doctor about them.
The team suggested that information about symptoms should be improved and this could help cervical cancer to be diagnosed earlier.
Research into cervical screening tests
We know there is a link between the development of abnormal cells in the cervix and infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV). Researchers have developed tests to find HPV in cervical screening samples. This shows which women should be referred for an examination of the cervix called colposcopy.
If a woman's cervical screening test shows borderline or low grade abnormal cell changes (dyskaryosis), laboratories test the sample of cells for HPV. If HPV is present, the woman is referred for a colposcopy test.
Screening for HPV first
In some areas of England, the screening programme is looking at testing for HPV first. So if HPV is found, the woman's sample is then checked for abnormal cells.
Researchers think this might be better because HPV testing picks up more abnormal cells in the cervix. Also, if your sample has no HPV it is unlikely that cervical cancer will develop in the next few years. So these women might not need to go for screening as often. But more studies are needed to know this for sure.
Researchers are continuing to look into other ways of testing for HPV for cervical screening. One trial looked at whether women could collect their own samples for HPV testing. The researchers found no real difference in test results between the HPV sample taken by the women themselves, and those done by a doctor or nurse.
A recent review of studies has shown that a urine test to pick up HPV might be useful for screening but more studies are needed before it can be used.
Research into preventing cervical cancer
Vaccines, such as Cervarix and Gardasil, have been developed to prevent HPV infection. There are many different HPV strains. HPV types 16 and 18 are known to increase the risk of cervical cancer.
Several research trials have tested vaccines as a way of preventing infection with HPV. The trials have shown that the vaccines help to prevent abnormal changes in the cervix that may develop into cancer. In the UK, HPV vaccination is offered in school to all girls aged 12 to 13.
Research suggests that this vaccination programme will greatly lower the number of cases of cervical cancer. It will also reduce the need for colposcopy.
Research into scans for cervical cancer
Researchers are looking at a type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan called diffusion weighted MRI for cervical cancer. The aim of this study is to find out if the diffusion weighted MRI can show whether cervical cancer is likely to have a good or a bad outcome.
Research into treatment for cervical cancer
Surgery is the usual treatment for early stage cervical cancer.
Researchers are looking at different ways of doing surgery for early cervical cancer. They are comparing removal of the womb and cervix (a simple hysterectomy) with the usual treatment (a radical hysterectomy).
A radical hysterectomy involves removing:
- the womb (including the cervix)
- all the tissues holding the womb in place
- the top of the vagina
- all the lymph nodes around the womb
The trial wants to find out if a simple hysterectomy is as good as a radical hysterectomy in treating cervical cancer. It also wants to check if the simple hysterectomy gives fewer side effects and a better quality of life after the surgery.
- comparing chemotherapy before surgery with chemotherapy and radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy) in early cervical cancer
- looking into giving chemotherapy on its own before chemoradiotherapy starts for locally advanced cervical cancer
- testing chemotherapy for advanced cervical cancer
Researchers are looking into ways of improving internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy) for cervical cancer.
They are also looking at increasing the radiation dose when giving external radiotherapy by using Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT). The aim is to see if doctors can increase the radiation dose to the cancer, without causing more side effects than standard radiotherapy treatment.
Research is also looking into using different chemotherapy drugs alongside radiotherapy for cervical cancer. Researchers think they might be able to improve results by investigating other combinations of drugs.
Radiotherapy side effects
Researchers for the HOT II trial looked at whether using a high pressure oxygen treatment called hyberbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy could help to relieve the long term side effects of radiotherapy to the area between the hip bones (the pelvis). The results of the trial disagreed with other reports that say HBO is helpful. So the trial team felt larger trials are needed to know for sure.
Another study is looking at using a palm oil supplement and a drug called pentoxifylline to relieve symptoms caused by pelvic radiotherapy. The trial team want to find out if this combination of treatment helps, and to learn more about the side effects.
Researchers are also using a device called an electronic nose to see if they can predict long term changes in bowel function after pelvic radiotherapy.
Targeted cancer drugs
Targeted cancer drugs change the way that cells work. They can boost the body’s immune system to fight off or kill cancer cells. Or they can block signals that tell cells to grow.
Research is looking into different types of targeted drugs for cervical cancer. These drugs are being tested in trials. They are being looked at alone or in combination with radiotherapy or chemotherapy to treat cervical cancer.
The drugs being tested include:
A trial is looking at whether a vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV) can work as a treatment against some cancers, including cervical cancer.