Cervical cancer discovery offers major new clue to better understand the disease

Scientists have discovered that cervical cancer can be divided into two distinct molecular subgroups – one far more aggressive than the other – as part of the largest ‘omics’ study of its kind, led by researchers at UCL and the University of Southampton.

In a study published in Nature Communications, the team – which includes Kent bioscientists Dr Peter Ellis, Professor Mark Wass and Professor Martin Michaelis – say the breakthrough findings are a ‘major step forward’ in understanding the disease and provides a tantalising new clue in determining the best treatments for individual patients.

Cervical cancer is a major cause of cancer-related deaths in women and accounts for 528,000 new cases and 266,000 deaths worldwide each year. It is almost always caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex.

Even in the UK, where NHS cervical screening has dramatically reduced cancer incidence and with the national HPV vaccination programme aiming to cut rates even further, around 850 women die every year from the disease.

Dr Ellis said: ‘This research is really exciting. The findings show that there are two different types of cervical cancer – C1 or C2 – that have different properties and may require different treatments. This research therefore has the potential to make it easier to assign therapies to the right patients that are most likely to benefit from them.’Professor Michaelis added: ‘HPV vaccination programmes will hopefully continue to reduce the number of cervical cancer cases. However, as long as we cannot prevent every case of cervical cancer, we will have to keep working on the improvement of therapies, so that we can provide every patient with the best possible treatment.’

The research was primarily funded by the Debbie Fund, set up in memory of Deborah Phillips, who died of cervical cancer in in 2010, aged 48.

A full report is available at the University of Southampton’s news centre.