A commonly used oral combination HIV drug of lopinavir and ritonavir could be taken as a vaginal capsule to kill the virus that leads to cervical cancer in women, a phase I clinical trial in Kenya reveals. Cervical cancer is caused by the uncontrolled growth of some cells on the cervix (the organ connecting the uterus to the vagina). Cells on the cervix begin to grow slowly and abnormally over several years.
The findings of the new study were released last month in Nairobi, Kenya. According to researchers from the Kenyatta hospital in Nairobi, and the UK's University of Manchester, lopinavir and ritonavir will offer hope to many women especially from low-resource countries who die of cervical cancer.
The early-stage clinical trial carried out by Innocent Maranga, a gynaecologist at Kenyatta hospital, and the UK-based researchers, found that the drug wiped out pre-cancerous cells in 90 per cent of trial participants with minimal side effects.
Maranga, according to a press release, says the women who took part in the study were given one capsule of the combination drug, which has 133.3 milligrams lopinavir and 33.3 milligrams ritonavir, daily for two weeks in 2012.
"We then repeated cervical smears which showed a marked improvement within one month of the treatment. After three months, there was a very positive response," said Maranga.
Maranga discloses that they would now move on to phase two and three trials, which could require up to 5,000 women. In Uganda, about 3,577 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 2,464 die from it. Also, about 7.32 million women of reproductive age (15 years and above) are at risk of developing this cancer, transmitted by a man's penis to a woman's cervix during sexual intercourse.
"It usually takes 10 to 20 years for an HPV infection on the cervix to develop into cervical cancer. The HPV first turns into pre-cancer, which later develops into cancer if not treated at an early stage," Dr Gerald Mutungi, the acting programme manager for non-communicable diseases prevention and control in the Health ministry, observes.
He adds that women with cervical cancer may experience no symptoms at all. However, those with advanced stages of the disease may present symptoms such as bleeding from the private parts between menstrual periods, after menopause and after sexual intercourse, foul-smelling vaginal discharge and lower abdominal pain or backache.
He urges women between 25 and 60 years to have regular cervical cancer screening, especially if one is living with HIV as she is the most at-risk of developing this cancer.