Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted infection that, in rare cases, can persist and cause cervical cancer. The current standard for HPV and cervical testing is the Pap smear test, which involves scraping tissue from the cervix to look for cancer cells. While this procedure is helpful in detecting cervical cancer occurrence, it is quite intrusive and painful. A study recently published on the JAMA Network Open offers a simpler solution that women are already using: sanitary napkins.
In Wuhan, China, Jingjing Zhang conducted a study of sanitary napkins used by women with HPV. These 120 women have been classified as high risk patients by their doctors, which means there is a high chance that HPV will turn into cervical cancer. After testing 120 pads, Zhang and his team were able to accurately identify 94.2% of high-risk patients. The test was also able to identify more sub-types precisely and is considered “superior”.
Most women avoid planning a pap smear because it is painful and uncomfortable. Testing sanitary napkins can make trips to the gynecologist less aversive. It also encourages women to be proactive with testing. For example, one study found that in places like India where menstruation is fearfully discussed, women were open to using their menstrual blood for cervical tests.
Researchers advocating sanitary napkins as medical devices for HPV detection suggest collecting napkins from the second day of the menstrual process. This is because the second day of menstruation is usually the heaviest, so more content can be tested.