“There’s a lot of under-served populations (in Saskatchewan), even in an inner city, who are hesitant to undergo a standard pap test,” said gynecologic oncologist Dr. Jennifer Brown Broderick (MD). She is also an assistant professor in the College of Medicine’s Division of Oncology, and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer in women worldwide. Nearly all cases are caused because of an HPV-related infection. Currently, the most common way to screen for cervical cancer is through a pap smear.
“Conventional pap tests require women to come to a physician or nurse practitioner,” she said. “Of course, the north – and a lot of Saskatchewan in general – is very remote and rural.”
Reasons preventing women from attending pap smear appointments range from geographical to cultural, she explained. Cervical cancer screenings in northern Saskatchewan and underserved populations, including immigrants and Indigenous women, are estimated to be as low as 19 per cent.
To increase the screening rate, Brown Broderick and her research team are starting a pilot project entitled, HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) Self-Sampling for Primary Cervical Cancer Screening in Underserved Saskatchewan Women.
The research project would bring HPV testing to women in their own homes. HPV tests only require a swab to collect a sample, and is more accurate compared to conventional cytology, she said.
The project is partially supported by community funding. Brown Broderick is the recipient of $100,000 funded by Royal University Hospital Foundation’s Women Leading Philanthropy Grant. Each year, the grant is presented to women researchers, physicians, and practitioners leading healthcare initiatives at RUH working on transformative advancement in health care.
“To be able to use local donors (like RUH Foundation) to support the research in our province – I’m honoured,” Brown Broderick said.
“These are local women, and (the research project) is basically giving back to the community,” she said. “To be able to develop a program for the women of Saskatchewan, especially when there’s such a need, and to save young women’s lives is the biggest thing.”
Brown Broderick and her team are also receiving additional support — a $180,000 grant from Roche Pharmaceuticals. The project was one of five finalists who submitted their projects to the global competition.
With the high rate of cervical cancer in women, the World Health Organization (WHO) set an initiative in 2020 to eliminate cervical cancer through HPV immunizations for girls, screening and treating women with pre-cervical cancer and cervical cancer.
“These young women, we’re talking under 30 and 40 years old, are dying of a disease that is completely preventable,” she added.
“This project is a great opportunity for Saskatchewan to move towards primary HPV testing for cervical cancer screening, and aligns with both the CPAC (Canadian Partnership Against Cancer) action plan to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040, and also with the same worldwide goal from WHO.”