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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – New Cervical Cancer Test for Developing Countries - 2004-02-29

Broadcast: March 1, 2004

This is Robert Cohen with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Researchers say more than two-hundred-thousand women a year die from cervical cancer. These deaths are most common in developing countries.

The main cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus, or H-P-V. This is a common virus that men or women can give each other through sex. H-P-V may go away. But if it remains in the body, it greatly increases the chances of cervical cancer.

The cervix is part of the female reproductive system. It is the opening at the end of the uterus.

Cervical cancers develop slowly, usually over a period of ten or twenty years. There are tests that can find the disease early enough to save a woman's life. A common test is called a Pap smear. Laboratory workers examine cells under a microscope.

But many national health systems do not have money for these tests. In other cases, there might be cultural issues. As a result, more than eighty percent of women who die from cervical cancer are in poor nations.

Now a company in the United States says it plans to create a new test for cervical cancer in developing countries. The biotechnology company Digene says it expects research and development to take up to five years.

The test will be based on Digene technology already approved for use in laboratories in the United States and Europe. This technology uses computers to examine the genetic material in cells.

The goal is a test that is fast and low cost, has ease of use and is culturally acceptable. Women themselves might even be able to collect the cells during their visit to a doctor. The company says the aim is to collect cells and get the test results during the same visit. If pre-cancerous cells are found, health workers may then freeze them to kill them. If cancer is found, doctors may order radiation or other treatments.

Digene notes that cervical cancer is now considered one of the most preventable cancers in rich nations. But it is a leading cause of cancer deaths among women in South and Central America, Africa and Southeast Asia.

A non-profit group in Seattle, Washington, called PATH will give more than two-million dollars to the Digene project. PATH is Program for Appropriate Technology in Health. The money is from a program paid for by a thirteen-million dollar gift from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. This is Robert Cohen.