Australian researchers are one step closer to finding a cure for cervical cancer. Researchers at The Menzies Health Institute Queensland at Griffith University have successfully stopped cancer growth in mice using CRISPR gene-editing technology.
“This is the first cure for any cancer using this technology,” said study leader Professor Nigel McMillan, programme director at the Menzies Health Institute Queensland.
The researchers used CRISPR-Cas9 to successfully target and treat cervical cancer in mice by using ‘stealth’ nanoparticles.
“The nanoparticles search out the cancer-causing gene in cancer cells and ‘edit it’ by introducing some extra DNA that causes the gene to be misread and stop being made,” said Professor McMillan.
“In our study, the treated mice have 100% survival and no tumours.”
These findings suggest that CRISPR-Cas9 may be an effective treatment for cervical cancer.
What does this research breakthrough mean for other cancers?
Professor McMillan said “other cancers can be treated once we know the right genes,” however, it will take some time for the research to extend that far.
“There are still many steps to go through before we get to the clinic stage,” Professor McMillan explained.
He also warned there may be side effects and gene changes in the mice that have not yet been measured.
Currently, Griffith University scientists are working toward human trials of the gene therapy within the next five years.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix. The most common cervical cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, which accounts for 70% of cases. Adenocarcinoma is less common and more difficult to diagnose because it starts higher in the cervix. The risk of a woman being diagnosed by age 85 is 1 in 162.
While early changes in cervical cells rarely cause symptoms, the signs of cervical cancer include:
- Vaginal bleeding between periods
- Heavier or prolonged bleeding during menstruation
- Pain during and bleeding after intercourse
- Changes in vaginal discharge
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause.
Symptoms in developed cervical cancer include:
- Excessive tiredness
- Leg pain and swelling
- Lower back pain.
Causes of cervical cancer
Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. HPV is a common virus spread by genital skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. HPV typically takes 10-15 years to develop into cervical cancer.
House Call Doctor suggests monitoring what is and is not normal for your reproductive system and menstrual cycle and to be aware of any changes. Speak to your doctor if you have any concerns.
Cervical Screening Tests are offered to women every five years. If there are concerns over your result, you may be referred to a specialist. The two common tests to diagnose cervical cancer are a colposcopy, which identifies where abnormal cells are located in the cervix, and a biopsy where the doctor will remove some cervical tissue for testing.
If cervical cancer is detected, it will be given a stage from zero to four. The stage of the cancer is used to determine treatment options. Stage zero means abnormal cells are only found in the surface layer of cells in the cervix. Stage four means the cancer has spread to nearby organs. If detected early, cancer can be treated by surgery, which is sometimes followed by chemoradiotherapy afterwards. In some cases, a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) is required. For locally advanced disease, a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy is used. For metastatic disease, chemotherapy is used.
Cervical cancer can be effectively treated if diagnosed early. The condition has a five year survival rate of 74%. However, treatment for cervical cancer may greatly reduce or eliminate fertility.
An HPV vaccine protects against specific types of the virus that cause almost all cervical cancers. Through the National Immunisation Program, most girls in Australia will receive the HPV vaccine around the age of 12. However, you should still have regular screening tests for cervical cancer even if you have had the HPV vaccine. If you have been vaccinated, your first screening should be at the age of 25 and every 5 years after.