Current tests may detect gynecologic cancers too late or may produce false positives. (CBC/file)

New tests for gynecologic cancers will save lives

A new, gene-based test for ovarian and endometrial cancers should soon save lives and reduce the suffering of women thanks to joint research by Canadian and U.S. scientists. These two cancers are the third most common cause of cancer deaths in women in North America and other high income countries.

Existing tests often detect such cancers only after aggressive forms of the disease have spread to other organs. Imaging results in many false positives. “If a cancer can be detected early, it can be cured. Ovarian and uterine cancers – usually diagnosed at a late stage– take so many women’s lives and cause so much suffering,’’ said study co-author Dr. Lucy Gilbert, of the McGill University Health Centre in a news release.

Dr. Lucy Gilbert (front centre) and researchers from the Women’s Health Research Unit at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre are pleased with their results. (McGill University Health Centre)

New test ‘safe and minimally invasive’

The new test called PapSEEK provides a safe and minimally invasive method for earlier diagnosis of these cancers, say researchers. It allows for analysis of small amounts of cancer DNA from Pap samples from the cervix, uterus as well as blood by identifying common genetic mutations associated with the cancers. The test was developed by a team of researchers from the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal and Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Their study of the new test found one way to administer it was able to detect 93 per cent of endometrial cancers and 45 per cent of ovarian cancers and there were no false positives.

Death rates should decrease

It’s estimated that 7,300 Canadian women are diagnosed with endometrial cancer in Canada each year and more than 1,200 of them will die from it. Ovarian cancer is less common but more lethal. More than 2,800 are diagnosed with it every year and 1,800 die annually.

Many Canadian women routinely undergo the already-existing Pap test and that has dramatically decreased deaths from cervical cancer. But it is unable to detect endometrial or ovarian cancers. Researcher expect that in the same way, the new test will be capable of dramatically decreasing death rates of endometrial and ovarian cancer.

The test should be available in three to five years. The study was published in the March 21 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

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