PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Could pap tests be the key to discovering deeper gynecologic cancers?
“When [women] go to the gynecologist, the reason they go frequently is a cancer screening visit,” says Dr. Fredric Price, a gynecologist at West Penn Hospital.
“With pap tests, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found genetic material from uterine and ovarian cancers,” Price said. “It opened the door for a great deal of other research.”
With a pap test the doctor takes a scraping of cells from the cervix. That’s the opening of the womb. The cells are checked for any signs of cervical cancer.
Turns out cells from the ovaries and uterus can migrate down to the cervix, even cancer cells.
In the study, the doctors were not looking under the microscope for cellular changes, but rather, tests were done on the scrapings to look for traces of cancer DNA.
These were from 46 women known to have these types of cancers.
They were able to detect uterine cancer DNA 100 percent of the time, and ovarian cancer DNA 41 percent of the time.
“It’s a baby step forward because it was a very small group of patients,” Price said.
This is could be the beginning of things to come, maybe decades from now after much more research, looking at whether such testing actually reduces cancer cases and cancer deaths.
“A broader based study, with a larger number of women, opened up to more centers,” Price said talking about what research needs to be done. “It would be an expensive study to do because to do genetic analysis on a pap smear is an expensive thing to do.”
Another problem is sometimes picking up hints of malignancy leads to further testing, sometimes harmful testing, for something that would not have led to full-blown cancer in the end.
“Everyone thinks screening is great because you find things early. Well, what you also find is a lot of background noise. Things that don’t really reflect a serious problem,” he said.
There’s no good screening for ovarian cancer, and the symptoms can be vague.
If this experimental DNA test turns out to be valid someday, it will come as a much needed tool.