Pap Smear DNA Analysis May Find More Cancers, Study Shows

New versions of the Pap smear that analyze cells in the cervix for cancer may also identify malignancies of the ovaries and endometrium, a finding that could broaden the preventive benefits of the test.

In the study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, researchers found genes of cancer mutations in samples of cervical cells and secretions from Pap smears they tested. The DNA tests accurately detected all endometrial cancers and 41 percent of ovarian cancers.

No routine screening exists for endometrial or ovarian cancers, which were responsible for 47,000 and 22,000 new illnesses respectively in 2012, according to the National Cancer Institute. The Pap smear is administered to women of reproductive age, and since its introduction has reduced the incidence and mortality of cervical cancer by 75 percent. The new study may provide the first steps widening its success to more reproductive cancers, researchers said.

“Even if tumors were identified at an advanced stage, detection of presymptomatic ovarian cancers could be of benefit,” the authors wrote in the study released yesterday. “The earlier these advanced-stage ovarian cancers are diagnosed, the lower the overall tumor burden.”

The investigators focused on 12 of the most common types of ovarian and endometrial cancer mutations. They were able to identify mutations in the DNA of Pap smear specimens in all 24 of the endometrial cancers surveyed, and 9 of 22 ovarian cancers.

While more research needs to be done before the test can be broadly applied in gynecologists’ offices, the authors wrote, the findings may lead toward more routine testing.

The study’s lead author was Isaac Kinde, a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. The work was funded by Across America, The Commonwealth Fund, and the Hilton-Ludwig Cancer Prevention Initiative, among others.

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