The general wisdom is the earlier a doctor can detect cancer, the better for the patient. However, no tests currently exist that can reliably diagnosis ovarian or endometrial cancer, which is found in the uterine lining.
Until now. Researchers from The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutes in Baltimore, Maryland have succeeded in the first steps of finding a method that eventually may make it possible for clinicians to diagnose these types of cancer much earlier.
So before we go into this study, here's a quick reminder about why you as a middle-age woman needs to be aware of these types of cancer:
- Endometrial cancer, which is a type of uterine cancer, tends to occur in women who are between the ages of 60-70, although it has been recorded as striking women before the age of 40. However, more than 95 percent of uterine cancers are diagnosed in women who are 40 years old and above. As I mentioned in a 2012 sharepost, this type of cancer strikes the endometrium, which lines the uterus. Researchers don’t know the exact cause of this cancer, although they believe estrogen levels may be a factor because they help stimulate the buildup of the uterus lining.
- Ovarian cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths among women and occurs most often in women who are in their 50s. As I noted in a 2011 sharepost, the average age when a woman is diagnosed with this kind of cancer is 64; the average age of death is 71. While menopause isn’t associated with an increased risk of this type of cancer, the rate of ovarian cancer does increase as women age. Additionally, some research has found links between ovarian cancer and menopausal therapies such as estrogen-alone therapy. Hints also have arisen about an increased risk if of this cancer if a woman takes combination therapy.
Now back to the research. The Johns Hopkins scientists used DNA collected from liquid-based Pap smears to look for genetic mutations that are present in tumor cells found in the cervix once they are shed from endometrial or ovarian cancers. These Pap smear samples were then compared to a panel of genes that are commonly mutated in endometrial and ovarian cancers. Using this analysis, the researchers were able to identify the same mutations in the DNA that were from the Pap smear specimens in 100 percent of the endometrial cancer samples and in 41 percent of the ovarian cancer samples.
The researchers then developed a sequence-based method to look for mutations in 12 genes in a single Pap smear specimen without knowing if there was any relation to ovarian or endometrial cancers. The researchers then applied this method to 14 samples of positive cases of these types of cancer and were able to identify the tumor-specific mutations. “These results demonstrate that DNA from most endometrial and a fraction of ovarian cancers can be detected in a standard liquid-based Pap smear specimen obtained during routine pelvic examination,” the researchers stated in their article, which appeared in Science Translational Medicine. “Although improvements need to be made before applying this test in a routine clinical manner, it represents a promising step toward a broadly applicable screening methodology for the early detection of gynecologic malignancies.”
So what are the next steps? The research team will start tests on 100 ovarian cancers and 100 endometrial cancers that are at different stages. In addition, they will use this method to test a large number of Pap smear samples collected from healthy women. The team plans to finish this testing by the end of 2013. Additional work will still need to be done to validate the researchers’ work and show it to be effective in a large population of women. This validation process could take between 10-15 years.
So until this new test is widely available, be sure to visit your doctor to make sure you have the appropriate tests. And if you’re interested in participating in any trial related to the Johns Hopkins research I mentioned above, talk to your doctor to see if he or she can help you find out more information.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Kinde, I., et al. (2013). Evaluation of DNA from the Papanicolaou test to detect ovarian and endometrial cancers. Science Translational Medicine.
Steenhuysen, J., (2013). Fluid from Pap test sued to detect ovarian, endometrial cancers. MedlinePlus.
Published On: January 10, 2013