First off, some really thrilling news from the cancer research community at Johns Hopkins: scientists have developed a test that uses Pap test fluid (a routine sample from a normal GYN examination) to screen for ovarian and endometrial cancers with stunningly good results. All the normal caveats are there (we need larger studies, this isn’t absolute proof, etc.), but researchers also note that this test “has the potential to pioneer genomic-based cancer screening tests.” That would mean finding cancer earlier, and treating it earlier — and in a cost-effective way.
One of my favorite things about this finding (aside from the whole, “catch cancer earlier without hugely invasive tests” thing) is that it was developed in the Swim Across America lab, which is sponsored in part by a volunteer organization that fundraises for cancer research through swim events.
Cervical fluid turns out to be a very helpful thing in detecting cancer, in that it can contain both normal cellular DNA along with DNA from cancer cells. What the researchers have done is used genetic sequencing to distinguish the two kinds of DNA — cancerous and normal — from each other. The test was able to correctly detect cancer in 24 endometrial cancer patients (100 percent!) and 9 out of 22 ovarian cancer patients (41 percent). No cancer-free women from the control group were misidentified by the test as having cancer.
“Genomic-based tests could help detect ovarian and endometrial cancers early enough to cure more of them,” says graduate student Yuxuan Wang. And that’s crucial, because one-third of the 70,000 women who are diagnosed with these cancers in the U.S. each year will die from them.
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