According to scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, certain gene variations in some women may protect them against cervical cancer.
The researchers say that if the presence or absence of such genetic variants is known, doctors can easily tailor treatment strategies.
Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by persistent infections from several of the human papillomaviruses (HPV), a family of viruses that also cause common skin warts and genital warts.
HPV is the most commonly sexually transmitted infection in young adults, yet only a small subset of these infections lead to cervical cancer.
''Some people are better able than others to mount an immune response that suppresses their HPV infection. We suspected that this advantage was probably due to variations in genes that play key roles in the body's immune response,'' said Mark H. Einstein, M.D., associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology and women's health at Einstein.
For the study, the researchers enrolled 480 women and divided them into two groups: those with high-grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), a pre-malignant condition caused by HPV that can lead to cervical cancer; and a control group of women who had tested positive for HPV but had not developed high-grade CIN.
Taking cells from the women, the researchers searched for genetic differences between the two groups. They focused on a gene called TAP, known to be crucial to the immune system's ability to recognize viruses and eliminate them from the body.
The researchers found that study participants had key differences at two locations in their TAP genes.
Those women who possessed one or the other of these two gene variants were less than half as likely as other women to have developed high-grade CIN. Even women infected with the HPV types most likely to lead to cervical cancer were afforded protection by these variants.
The findings suggest that knowledge of these genetic variants, known as polymorphisms, can provide important information regarding protection against cervical cancer.
''We're hopeful that our findings will lead to a genetic test that will help us predict which patients with persistent HPV infection are most likely to develop high-grade CIN and, ultimately, cervical cancer,'' said Einstein.
He added: ''That knowledge should help us in mapping out effective treatment plans that are tailored to the individual patient. This trend of personalized medicine is becoming more common as new technologies offer hope of better tests.''
The study paper has been published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.