January 11, 2013 — Gene sequencing technology can detect endometrial and ovarian cancers by identifying mutations in samples collected during Pap tests, according to a preliminary study published on Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, Reuters reports (Steenhuysen, Reuters, 1/9).
Currently, there are no standard screening tests for ovarian or endometrial cancer. More than 22,000 U.S. women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, compared with about 47,000 annual diagnoses of endometrial cancer. Ovarian cancer kills more than 15,000 women annually, compared with 8,000 for endometrial cancer, largely because the disease is difficult to detect until it is advanced.
Cancerous ovarian and endometrial cells can be detected through a Pap test because some of the tumor cells flake off and travel to the cervix. However, too few of the cells are present in a Pap test to be detected through a microscope (Neergaard, AP/ Sacramento Bee, 1/9).
For the study, the researchers performed routine Pap tests on 24 women who had endometrial cancer and 22 women who had ovarian cancer. They then conducted DNA tests on the Pap samples to detect mutations they had identified as being associated with the cancers.
The tests identified 100% of endometrial cancers and 41% of ovarian cancers. The Times notes that even a 41% detection rate for ovarian cancer is notable because the current mortality rate is so high.
Finally, the researchers developed a single test that would search for cancer-associated mutations in 12 different genes in Pap samples. They used the test on a control group of 14 healthy women and found no mutations, which meant the test did not produce false positives (Grady, New York Times, 1/9).
The researchers stressed that while the results are promising, they are still in the early stages of testing the method. Additional testing will take about 10 to 15 years.
By the end of this year, the researchers hope to finish testing involving 100 ovarian cancers, 100 endometrial cancers and a control group of healthy women (Reuters, 1/9). They are also testing various methods to increase the ovarian cancer detection rates, such as timing the test to a woman's menstrual cycle, using a longer brush to collect cells from deeper within the cervix or prescribing a drug that would increase the amount of cells shed by the ovaries (New York Times, 1/9).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership