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Seminar spotlights tests for cancer-causing virus.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - Talk to your doctor.

That's still the best advice for women when it comes to testing for the virus that causes cervical cancer - the second-most-common cause of cancer among women worldwide, says Linda Hawley of Oregon Medical Laboratories.

But nowadays, there are new tools and new technologies when it comes to testing for sexually transmitted viruses such as human papilloma virus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer, and herpes simplex virus (HSV).

Dr. Bruce Patterson, an associate professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine and director of virology at the school's hospitals and clinics, was here Tuesday speaking about those tools and technologies to about 50 doctors, nurses and other health care professionals during a seminar titled "Cervical Cancer Screening: New Tools for the Detection of HPV."

Patterson was a guest at Oregon Medical Laboratories' new office building on International Way, the former Sony plant that is being remodeled and officially opens in January. The purpose was more than teaching doctors how to use modern technology to perform the tests and what to do with the information gleaned from them. The seminar also was meant to help doctors create a greater awareness that the tests are available in Lane County, and to reach the women, mostly those 30 older, who might need them.

"We've done a great job in the United States screening for cervical cancer," Patterson said during an interview before the seminar, "but it's not perfect. We can still do a better job."

Molecular diagnostics is driving the latest advances in the diagnosis and treatment of HSV and HPV, the latter of which causes an estimated 95 to 100 percent of all cervical cancer cases.

Although the technology has been around for a couple of years, clinical guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, released in April spurred Tuesday's seminar, Hawley said.

Dr. Rhoda Morrow, a professor in the department of laboratory medicine at the University of Washington, also spoke at the seminar about the genital herpes epidemic.

The new clinical guidelines show that when HPV tests, which use advanced molecular technology to detect the DNA of the cancer-causing type of the virus, are used in conjunction with Pap smear tests, the HPV test's ability to identify women needing early intervention to stop the disease is nearly 100 percent, according to ACOG.

"The combination of the two has given us an algorithm with how to screen women for cervical cancer," Patterson said.

The new technology will help doctors and medical professionals do a better job of predicting who's at high risk for cervical cancer, since the viruses that lead to the disease are often asymptomatic, he said.

The new technology has been developed by companies such as Digene, Roche and Invirion, he said. And just two weeks ago, Merck & Co. announced an experimental vaccine it says is 100 percent effective in preventing HSV and HPV. But the vaccine, which Merck hopes the Food and Drug Administration approves next year, "will do nothing for the millions and millions of women already infected with HPV," Patterson said.

It takes between five and 10 years before an infection morphs into pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions, he said. "So even if the vaccine were available tomorrow, it would still be 10 years before we saw any changes," Patterson said. Although women who have multiple sex partners and those who engage in risky behaviors such as intravenous drug use are at highest risk for HSV and HPV, other women are also susceptible, he said. One contact might do it.

And although doctors in the United States have done a great job of screening for cervical cancer until now, "we have a responsibility to bring these (new) tests to more people," Patterson said.

And the discovery of technologies such as molecular diagnostics is much like when penicillin was discovered in the 1920s, he said. "Now, it's no longer a diagnosis of exclusion. We can treat, diagnose and monitor. So it's a very exciting time in terms of being able to manage viruses."
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Title Annotation:Health; A Stanford expert tells local doctors about guidelines to flag cervical cancer
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 26, 2005
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