Researches have been able to detect genetic changes caused by ovarian and endometrial cancers using cervical fluid collected from routine Pap smears, offering promise for a new kind of screening test for these deadly cancers.
“Is this the harbinger of things to come? I would answer yes,” said Dr. Bert Vogelstein, director of the Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics and Therapeutics at Johns Hopkins University, and a senior author of a report on the Pap test study published on Wednesdayin the journal Science Translational Medicine. He said the genomes of more than 50 types of tumors had been sequenced, and researchers were trying to take advantage of the information.
Currently, there are no tests that can reliably detect either ovarian or endometrial cancer, which affects the uterine lining. Research teams have been trying for several years to find a screening test that could identify these cancers early, when there is a better chance of a cure.
The idea is to take fluid collected from the cervix for Pap tests and use gene sequencing technology to look for genetic changes that would only be found in endometrial and ovarian tumors.
But the research is early, years away from being used in medical practice, and there are caveats. The women studied were already known to have cancer, and while the Pap test found 100 percent of the uterine cancers, it detected only 41 percent of the ovarian cancers. And the approach has not yet been tried in women who appear healthy, to determine whether it can find early signs of uterine or ovarian cancer.
Uterine cancer kills around 8,000 women a year in the United States. Ovarian cancer is usually advanced by the time it is found, and survival rates are poor. About 22,280 new cases were expected in the United States in 2012, and 15,500 deaths.
Improved tests are urgently needed.