The human papilloma virus (HPV) is the leading cause of cervical cancer. A joint study, conducted by researchers at Canada’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre (GSC) at BC Cancer in partnership with Uganda Cancer Institute in Kampala and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, reviewed cervical cancer tumours from Ugandan women and determined that different types of HPV strains affect human genomes differently, which may contribute to more aggressive forms of cervical cancer than others.
While HPV immunization and regular screening rates have decreased the incidence of cervical cancer in B.C., global rates, particularly in sub-Saharan African women, are predicted to increase 50 per cent by 2040. It is through collaborative efforts like these that continue to highlight BC Cancer as an international leader in cancer research, supporting cancer efforts that affect people across the globe.
“We are very grateful to have had the opportunity to engage in a wonderful collaboration, involving teams of researchers from different countries and continents, to use genome science to analyze these very precious samples from Ugandan patients,” says Dr. Marco Marra, director of the GSC. “This opportunity speaks to the foresight of those who collaborated with the Uganda Cancer Institute in Kampala to perform sample collection, and the study funders that made it possible. We are especially grateful to the support of the patients, without whom this work could not have happened.”
The results of this research may also lead to better understanding of other HPV-associated cancers, such as head and neck cancers, which are being observed with increasing frequency in western populations. HPV is so common, it is reported that the majority of sexually active women will get the virus at some point in their lives. HPV vaccination rates in low- and middle-income countries remain low. Limited resources and a high prevalence of HIV further complicates prevention and treatment strategies.
The World Health Organization recently announced that the elimination of cervical cancer is now one of its top priorities.
To learn more about BC Cancer’s Cervix Screening program, visit: bccancer.bc.ca/screening/cervix.