Pap smear testing could soon detect other cancers

Health Care

By Val Willingham
(CNN) — Could the Pap smear, which is already commonly used to detect cervical cancer, also be used to find endometrial and ovarian cancers? A small study suggests that may be possible in the future.

Scientists at Johns Hopkins have found that cervical fluid collected during a routine Pap smear can be used to detect both types of cancers by using a genome sequencing test called the “PapGene.”

Researchers administered the test on a small group of samplings, and found the procedure accurately detected all 24 endometrial cancers, or cancer of the lining of the uterus. However, they were only able to find nine of 22, or 41%. of ovarian cancers.

According to the American Cancer Society, only 20% of ovarian cancers are found early. Survival chances increase dramatically when cancers are caught early, before they have spread.

The Pap test is designed to collect cervical cells that are examined for cancer. It is the gold standard for cervical cancer screening. Yet, there is no good screening method available for ovarian or endometrial cancers.

Because the pilot study was small, investigators say this genetic test is not ready for general practice. They emphasize larger studies still need to be conducted and the test may even have to be refined, particularly to improve finding ovarian cancers. Scientists involved in the initial research are already recruiting patients for the next trial phase.

But doctors are still excited, especially since the test would be easy and convenient since the Pap test is already available. When cells are taken in a Pap test, there is excess fluid that accumulates on the smear. Those are the fluids the test would examine for the other cancers.

And investigators say the procedure would eliminate a lot of “false positive” results that previous tests for these cancers have caused.

“The lack of false positives is a real advantage, because they often lead to anxiety and worry in the patient,” says Dr. Luis Diaz, the lead investigator of the study and an associate professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins. “And the follow-up tests are expensive and can be invasive. We are hoping this test will take away those worries.”

Results of the experiments are published in the January 9 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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