A commonly-used HIV drug has been shown to kill off the human papillomavirus ( HPV ) that leads to cervical cancer in a world-first clinical trial.
Researchers have examined Kenyan women diagnosed with HPV positive early stage cervical cancer who were treated with the antiviral HIV drug Lopinavir in Kenya. The results have shown a high proportion of women diagnosed with HPV positive high-grade disease returned to normal following a short course of the new treatment.
Ian and Lynne Hampson, from the University's Institute of Cancer Sciences and Innocent Orora Maranga, at Kenyatta National Hospital ( KNH ) in Nairobi examined Kenyan women diagnosed with HPV positive early stage cervical cancer who were treated with the antiviral HIV drug Lopinavir.
The study looked at 40 women with both high and low-grade pre-cancerous disease of the cervix and the antiviral drug, normally used orally to treat HIV, was self-applied directly to the cervix as a pessary.
The results have shown a high proportion of women diagnosed with HPV positive high-grade disease returned to normal following a short course of the new treatment.
They have been described by an independent leading specialist in gynaecological cancer as very impressive. The 40 women, who were all HPV positive with either high-grade, borderline or low grade disease, were treated with one capsule of the antiviral drug twice a day for 2 weeks.
Repeat cervical smears showed a marked improvement within one month of the treatment although after three months, there was a definite response. Out of 23 women initially diagnosed with high-grade disease, 19 ( 82.6% ) had returned to normal and two now had low-grade disease giving an overall positive response in 91.2% of those treated.
Furthermore the 17 women initially diagnosed with borderline or low-grade disease also showed similar improvement.
Photographic images of the cervix before and after treatment showed clear regression of the cervical lesions and no adverse reactions were reported.
For an early stage clinical trial the results have exceeded our expectations. Researchers have seen women with high-grade disease revert to a normal healthy cervix within a comparatively short period of time.
Cervical cancer is caused by infection with human papilloma virus ( HPV ) and is more than five times more prevalent in East Africa than the UK.
In many developing countries, HPV-related cervical cancer is still one of the most common women's cancers accounting for approximately 290,000 deaths per year worldwide. The same virus also causes a significant proportion of cancers of the mouth and throat in both men and women and this disease is showing an large increase in developed countries, such as the UK, where it is now more than twice as common as cervical cancer.
Current HPV vaccines are prophylactics aimed at preventing the disease rather than curing or treating symptoms. Other than surgery, as yet there is no effective treatment for either HPV infection or the pre-cancerous lesion it causes which is why these results are so exciting.
On a global scale HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease. Although in the developed world vaccination programmes against HPV are well underway, these are not effective in women already infected with the virus.
The current vaccines do not protect against all types of HPV and they are expensive, which can limit their use in countries with low resources.
The researchers believe their findings offer a potential cheap and preferably self-administered treatment that could eliminate early-stage HPV infections before these have developed into cancers would therefore have distinct health advantages.
Approximately 300,000 women are dying from cervical cancer per annum which is equivalent to 800 per day, one every two minutes mostly in low resource settings. ( Xagena )
Source: Manchester University, 2014