Could the Dreaded Pap Smear Be More Helpful Than We Thought?
Is it possible that the Pap smear, commonly used to detect cervical cancer, could also be used to find ovarian and endometrial cancers?
I’ve lost two good friends, women in their thirties, to ovarian cancer, and in both cases death came swiftly and with extreme amounts of pain. It will be awesome if it turns out that scientists have found a way to detect ovarian and endometrial cancer at an early stage and prevent this horrible suffering.
The Pap test is designed to collect cervical cells that are examined for cancer. Currently, there is no good screening method available for ovarian or endometrial cancers, but a new study conducted at Johns Hopkins University suggests that may change in the future.
Researchers at the university created a new test that takes the same fluid swab from the cervix as during a routine Pap smear, but then tests it for the presence of certain cancer-specific mutations, using a genome sequencing test called the “PapGene.”
Why does the approach make sense? From Fox News:
That’s because the cervical fluid collected during a Pap smear can contain cells, including cancer cells, that have been shed from the ovaries or endometrium (the lining of the uterus). During the study, researchers developed a test to look for genetic markers of ovarian and endometrial cancers that were present in the cervical fluid. (The new test requires cervical fluid from a Pap smear, but analyzes it in a different way than does the test for cervical cancer.)
Among women already known to have these cancers, the test correctly identified 100 percent of endometrial cancers, and 41 percent of ovarian cancers. Fourteen healthy women also had the test, and none were identify as having cancer.
Perhaps this will make more acceptable the annual visit to the gynecologist for a pap smear, which most women dread because of its ordeal of placing our feet into stirrups, and worrying whether the speculum to be inserted into our vagina is going to be cold metal or slightly warmer plastic.
But if it means being able to test for ovarian and endometrial cancer, in addition to cervical cancer, the indignity is definitely worth it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. In 2009 (the most recent year numbers are available), 20,460 women in the United States were diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and 14,436 women died from the disease.
Endometrial cancer (also known as uterine cancer) is the most commonly diagnosed gynecologic cancer, the CDC says and, like ovarian cancer, is best treated when caught early. The 2009 figures for endometrial cancer: 44,192 women in the United States diagnosed, and 7,713 women died.
This pilot study was small, so larger studies will have to happen before the test becomes widely available.
Nevertheless, doctors are excited.
“Genomic-based tests could help detect ovarian and endometrial cancers early enough to cure more of them,” Johns Hopkins graduate student Yuxuan Wang said in a statement.
She noted that the cost of the test could be similar to current cervical fluid HPV testing, which is less than $100.
“Our genomic sequencing approach may offer the potential to detect these cancer cells in a scalable and cost effective way,” added lab director Luis Diaz.
“Performing the test at different times during the menstrual cycle, inserting the cervical brush deeper into the cervical canal, and assessing more regions of the genome may boost the sensitivity,” said Chetan Bettegowda, an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins.
This sounds wonderful to me. What do you think?
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Photo Credit: Attain Fertility