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Will Pap Smears Someday Detect Ovarian and Endometrial Cancer?

Each year in the United States, around 15,000 women die from ovarian cancer and 8,000 die from endometrial cancer, according to

Ovarian cancer symptoms are vague, and women with it often aren’t diagnosed until the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. Endometrial cancer is typically diagnosed earlier when symptoms such as vaginal bleeding occur.

Johns Hopkins scientists found a way to screen for these hard-to-detect cancers using a routine Pap smear, reported Baltimore Sun. The Pap test has dramatically improved detection of cervical cancer, reducing deaths by 75 percent among women who are screened.

A new study in the journal of Science Translational Medicine recently reported that a multipurpose version of a Pap smear can detect genetic signs of ovarian and endometrial cancer in women, said Science News.

These innovative applications of the Pap test are part of advances in genetics being applied to detecting a wide variety of cancers or precancerous conditions, wrote New York Times.

Dr. Luis A. Diaz, an associate professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins, and the other researchers used genome sequencing to identify ovarian and endometrial cancer cells, said Baltimore Sun.

This process is made possible by a liquid-based Pap smear introduced in the past decade that allows for DNA collection.

The New York Times reported that DNA testing is already performed on Pap smear samples, to look for the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer.

During the study, researchers developed a test to look for genetic markers of ovarian and endometrial cancers that were present in the cervical fluid, wrote

The new test analyzes cervical fluid differently than the cervical cancer test. The cervical fluid collected during a Pap smear can contain cells, including cancer cells that have been shed from the ovaries or endometrium. reported that among women already known to have these cancers, the test correctly identified 100 percent of endometrial cancers, and 41 percent of ovarian cancers.

The New York Times said however that it hasn’t been used on women who appear healthy, to determine if it can detect early signs of ovarian and endometrial cancer.

The test is far from clinic-ready, stated Science News. But if it’s confirmed in larger studies and developed into a usable test, this approach could change cancer testing in women.

“Probably one of the most exciting features of this approach,” Diaz said to New York Times, “is that we wanted a test that would seamlessly integrate with routine medical practice that could be utilized with the same test that women get every day all over the world, the Pap smear.”

Currently, there are no recommended screening tests for ovarian and endometrial cancer, wrote

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