Cervical smear tests 'could also detect ovarian and womb cancer'

In collaboration with the Press Association

DNA from cervical screening samples could also be used to detect ovarian and womb (endometrial) cancers, according to preliminary US research.

Cervical screening uses a test called cytology, which most people know as the 'smear test'. Cytology involves taking a sample of cells from the cervix with a small brush.

Scientists from John Hopkins Medical Institutes extended the DNA testing already used as part of the screening programme to look for changes relating specifically to womb and ovarian cancer from cells that had trickled down to the cervix.

The test identified all of 24 women who had subsequently developed womb cancer, and nine out of 22 women who had gone on to develop ovarian cancer.

Despite the lower detection rate, the researchers propose that such a test could be most useful for women with ovarian cancer, since the disease is difficult to diagnose early and so is often harder to treat.

And womb cancer already tends to be detected earlier than ovarian cancer as a result of more obvious symptoms such as vaginal bleeding.

Importantly, no healthy samples were wrongly identified as having cancer- so called 'false-positive' results.

Dr Jacqui Shaw, a Cancer Research UK grant holder from the University of Leicester, said: "This is an exciting early study. It suggests that the national cervical screening programme could one day be expanded to test for ovarian and womb cancers too.

"The idea of testing women's cervical screening samples for DNA from ovarian and womb cancers is clever, and this small study shows this may be possible in the future.

But she cautioned further research is needed: "The next step is to carry out larger studies that can better measure how accurately such DNA tests could detect these cancers".

"It will also be interesting to see whether expanding the number of genes analysed could make the test more accurate, especially for detecting ovarian cancer, which is notoriously difficult to diagnose early, " she added.

Copyright Press Association 2013

References

  • Kinde I. et al. (2013). Evaluation of DNA from the Papanicolaou Test to Detect Ovarian and Endometrial Cancers, Science Translational Medicine, 5 (167) 167ra4-167ra4. DOI: