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Pap test could detect other cancers

WASHINGTON — For years, doctors have lamented that there’s no Pap test for deadly ovarian cancer. Wednesday, scientists reported a tantalizing hint that one day there might be.

Researchers are trying to retool the Pap, a test for cervical cancer, so that it could spot early signs of other gynecologic cancers, too. How? It turns out that cells can flake off of tumors in the ovaries or the lining of the uterus, and float down to rest in the cervix, where Pap tests are performed. These cells are too rare to recognize under the microscope. But researchers from Johns Hopkins University used some sophisticated DNA testing on the Pap samples to uncover gene mutations that show cancer is present.

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In a pilot study, they analyzed Pap smears from 46 women diagnosed with either ovarian or endometrial cancer. The new technique found all the endometrial cancers and 41 percent of the ovarian tumors, the team reported Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

This is early-stage research, and women should not expect any change in their routine Paps. It will take years of additional testing to prove if the so-called PapGene technique really could work as a screening tool to spot cancer.

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