For some people, menstruation can be painful, embarrassing, and inconvenient. But what if that menstrual blood was looked at as a resource rather than a burden?
A promising new study shows there could soon be another way to detect a virus that can cause cervical cancer in women.
Researchers found that menstrual blood can be used to detect the human papillomavirus (HPV).
This study indicates the first step toward harnessing menstrual blood and using it as a diagnostic tool.
Menstrual blood is proving to be a valuable asset that can provide information about a person’s health, not just a wasteful by-product.
A new way to detect HPV?
New research published in Obstetrics & Gynecology could pave the way for a simple, pain-free, diagnostic test to help screen for Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
Among women who tested positive for HPV, researchers found that self-collected menstrual blood samples had about the same accuracy in detecting HPV as cervical swab samples collected by doctors.
The study of just over 100 women included cervical swab samples and samples collected at home using menstrual blood. The two tests had similar accuracy detecting HPV.
The tests using menstrual blood also found 12 cases of high-risk HPV that the cervical swab test missed.
92% of the study participants said they preferred self-collection over an invasive screening by a doctor.
What is HPV?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.
There are several different types of HPV. Some types can cause health issues. If left untreated, some types of HPV can cause cancer, including cervical cancer.
HPV vaccines can prevent some of the health concerns HPV causes.
Screening for HPV is a crucial step in helping prevent cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is a very common cancer among women. According to the World Health Organization, more than 95% of all cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV.
Screening for HPV is an important step to help prevent cervical cancer, or find it early.
Unfortunately, diagnosing HPV can be challenging, as many people do not have symptoms.
To detect HPV or cervical cancer, doctors use a common, but invasive test called a pap smear. A pap smear usually occurs during a gynecological exam, and it can be uncomfortable or painful.
How were the samples collected?
In this study, samples were collected by the participants using a modified menstrual pad called the Q-pad. The Q-pad was developed by biotechnology research company, Qvin. The pad is made from organic cotton and contains a removable testing strip.
Study participants were told to use the Q-pad on the second day of their menstrual cycle, or the day with the heaviest flow. Once the pad was soaked, participants removed the collection test strip and mailed it to a laboratory for HPV analysis.
According to the study, no participants had discomfort using the Q-pad.
Less invasive, more accessible testing
According to the study, 94% of participants said they would prefer using a modified menstrual pad to screen for HPV if it was an available option.
As of now, the pap smear is the standard test used to screen for HPV. This type of test is usually performed in a clinic. It is invasive and it can be uncomfortable. It can also be costly, as many resources are used for collecting the sample.
Allowing women to collect menstrual blood in a non-invasive way, with an item they are familiar with, could open the door for wider use, and potentially more screenings.
The authors of the study say testing for HPV through self-collected samples could reduce screening costs and the need for uncomfortable exams. This could help increase screening access.
The study authors explain that cervical cancer prevention needs testing methods that are quick, convenient, and low cost to have a wide reach.
Researchers also say using menstrual blood for testing has a lot of potential uses, including screening for other types of cancer and sextual transmitted infections.
According to the study, this type of passive collection approach could be a good tool for cervical cancer screening programs, but larger studies are still needed.