Around a third of cervical cancer cases could be prevented every year in England if women were tested for human papilloma virus (HPV), researchers are claiming.

According to Scientists from Queen Mary, University of London, 600 cases of the disease could be prevented if tests based on HPV were used first instead of the traditional cervical screening method that relies on detecting abnormal cells in the cervix.

The research, funded by Cancer Research UK and published in the Journal of Medical Screening, established that of 8,750 women with cervical cancer almost 40% had a negative result from cervical screening up to six years before their diagnosis.

On the assumption that primary HPV testing would detect 95% of the cases missed by normal screening, the researchers estimated that it could prevent up to 33% of cervical cancer cases in women aged 25-64 if introduced in England.

"Although we already have a very effective cervical cancer screening programme, this study suggests that we could do even better if primary HPV testing was introduced here in the UK," said Hazel Nunn, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, commenting on the findings.

"Not only would introducing primary HPV testing prevent more cases of cancer, it would also mean women who tested negative wouldn’t need to be checked as often," added Professor Peter Sasieni, study author and Professor of Cancer Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine.

Primary HPV testing is already been piloted in some parts of England, which should help give a "clearer indication of what such a major change to the screening programme would entail," noted Nunn.