Heritabilty factors in cervical cancer

Lead researcher

Professor Suzanne Garland, A/Professor Dorota Gertig, Professor John Wark, A/Professor Sepehr Tabrizi, Professor Marian Pitts, Dr Bircan Erbas

The University of Melbourne

Years funded

The cause of cervical cancer (neck of the womb) is a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus is extremely common, with many sexually active women being infected early in their sexual life.

Most, women however clear the virus. In a small proportion of women the virus becomes persistent and can lead to abnormal cellular changes of the cervix as it is picked up on a Pap smear. Treatment of these abnormalities prevents development of cancer. Why some women develop persistent infection and others not is unknown.

Similarly we do not understand why some women develop cancer and others do not. It is recognized that those who smoke, long-term use of the oral contraceptive pill, have other infections such as Chlamydia and genital herpes are more at risk of progression. There may be some genetic factors also which determine why some women once infected have chronic infection with the ultimate development of cancer.

One way to evaluate environmental from genetic effects is to study twins. If the risk is greater in twins in general it is more like to be due to genetics. This is particularly so if the risk is greater in identical twins as compared to non identical twins. The study proposes to study twins with abnormal Paps (as a likelihood of underlying chronic infection from HPV), to define the HPV they may have been infected with.

Another way to see if they have had infection previously will be to take a blood test. Twin pairs whereby both have been infected with HPV will be compared for:

  1. the development of persistent infection with HPV (2x tests positive at least 12 months apart); and
  2. development of abnormal cells on Pap suggesting high-grade abnormality (the lesion recognized occurring before cancer develops).
We will compare the outcome for 1 and 2 above and link this with identical versus non-identical status, plus various environmental risk factors (these will be determined by a questionnaire give to the women).

Funding Body

Cancer Council Research Grant

Award / Duration

Research Grant: 2007