The Cervical Health Study

Cancer Council NSW is investigating the connection between lifestyle choices and cervical cancer.

Research has shown us that long term infection with Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is necessary for the development of cervical cancer. HPV is the virus that the new cervical cancer vaccine aims to control. Infection with HPV is very common and has no symptoms; the majority of women will contract HPV at some stage in their life and most of the time the infection will go away by itself. However,  what we don’t yet know is why, in a small number of women, HPV causes certain cervical cells to mutate into pre-cancerous cells, and then, if left untreated, into cervical cancer. This  mutation happens in only a very small percentage of the women who contract HPV. We aim to see if lifestyle factors such as smoking, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), pregnancy and hormonal contraception, have any connection to these pre-cancerous cervical cell changes.

We contacted women who had a recent Pap smear and asked them to let us access their Pap smear data and to fill out a questionnaire. The questionnaire asked for information about their current and past use of cigarettes and alcohol, about their pregnancy history, hormonal contraceptive and HRT use and several other things. We also asked some women to provide a blood sample, which we tested for the presence of HPV. Some of the women we contacted may have had normal cervical cells, others not – they may have received notification that their Pap smear had an abnormal result – something that may indicate that HPV has begun to mutate. Researchers are using their questionnaire information, blood sample results and Pap smear data to look for trends which might indicate what else might be causing these pre-cancerous cervical cell changes.

The study was funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council Project Grant.

Study personnel

Investigators

Associate Professor Freddy Sitas, Chief Investigator
Cancer Research Division, Cancer Council NSW

Professor Dianne O’Connell
Cancer Research Division, Cancer Council NSW

Associate Professor Karen Canfell
Cancer Research Division, Cancer Council NSW

Professor Emily Banks
Australian National University

Professor Ian Frazer
Diamantina Institute
University of Queensland

Clinical Investigators

Professor Jonathan Carter
Dr Chris Darlymple

University of Sydney

Professor Neville Hacker
Dr Mick Campion

University of NSW

Associate Investigators

Dr Barbara Rose
Prof Yvonne Cossart

University of Sydney

Dr Robyn Godding
NSW Cancer Institute

Aims of the study

This study aims to:

Measure the possible contributions of lifestyle factors such as oral contraception, smoking and hormone replacement therapy in combination with  HPV, on the development of abnormal cells in the cervix.

Information about study protocol

Women aged 20 – 64, living in NSW, identified though the Pap Test Register, who have recently had a pap smear were asked to:

  • Complete a questionnaire about their lifestyle such as use of cigarettes  and alcohol, hormonal contraception and HRT, their pregnancy and reproductive history, and demographic details such as  place of residence  and education.
  • Optionally donate a blood sample
  • Give consent for research staff to access their screening results from the Pap Test Register

Study news

Recruitment for this study was completed in 2011. We have recruited over 16, 000 women into the study. Of those 16, 000, over 4, 000 women provided a blood sample.  Data analysis and publication writing is still underway. We hope to publish results of this project in 2014.

Cervical Health Study Phase II

A sample of women, who participated in the Cervical Health Study, were invited to participate in Cervical Health Study Phase II. Phase II of the Cervical Health Study is looking at genetic factors which might be associated with long term infection with Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

Research has established that persistent infection with HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer. However, not all infections with HPV turn into cervical cancer. Genetic factors are known to play a major role in whether a woman’s immune system clears the HPV infection, or doesn’t clear the infection. Genes carry the information in the body that determines the characteristics of a person, such as colour of hair or eyes, and also information that tells the body what to do if it is invaded by a virus.

Women approached to participate in this second phase of the Cervical Health study were asked to provide a saliva sample and complete a short questionnaire on family ancestry. Researchers will extract genetic material from the saliva sample and look for specific gene mutations which might be linked to persistent infection with HPV.

Contact Us

If you want to know more about Cervical Health Study or Cervical Health Study Phase II, please contact the Cancer Research Division at crd@nswcc.org.au or 02 9334 1860.