CHICAGO — Using cervical fluid collected from routine Pap smears, U.S. researchers were able to spot genetic changes caused by both ovarian and endometrial cancers, offering promise for a new kind of screening test for these deadly cancers.
Experts say that although the test has tremendous potential, it is still years from widespread use. But if proven effective with more testing, it would fill a significant void.
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.
“Pap smears have had a tremendous impact in reducing the rate of cervical cancer in the United States,” said Andrea Myers of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, an author of the commentary on the study published in Science Translational Medicine.
“The lack of an equally effective screening test for women at high risk for endometrial or ovarian cancer has created a great deal of interest in developing tests that could identify these cancers by their genetic ‘signature’ — the collection of specific mutations within them,” she said.
“This new study is an important step in that direction.”
The new approach, developed by a team at the Sidney Kimmel comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, piggybacks on routine Papanicolaou, or Pap testing, which is already done routinely to detect cervical cancer.
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.
Since Pap tests occasionally contain cells shed from the ovaries or the lining of the uterus, cancer cells from these organs could be present in the fluid as well.
The team tested for mutations in 24 endometrial and 22 ovarian cancers. It hopes to complete the testing by the end of the year.