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angle-left Pushing screening of ovarian and endometrial cancers one step further

MUHC and Johns Hopkins join forces to develop a new Gene-based screening test using Pap test fluids

Mar 21, 2018

Montreal — A team from the Research Institute of McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) in Montreal has joined forces with researchers at Johns Hopkins to bring screening and early detection of ovarian and uterine cancers one step closer to clinical implementation. Researchers developed a test that provides a safe and minimally invasive method for earlier diagnosis of ovarian and endometrial cancers. This test – called PapSEEK – aims to analyze small amounts of cancer DNA obtained from Pap samples from the cervix, uterus as well as blood by identifying common genetic mutations associated with these cancers. Their findings were published in the March 21 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

“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,’’ says study corresponding author Dr. Lucy Gilbert, who is the director of Gynecologic Cancer Services at the McGill University Health Centre and a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Oncology at McGill University.

“Diagnostic tests do not always reliably distinguish benign conditions from cancer, leading to unnecessary procedures,” adds Dr. Amanda Nickles Fader, director of the Johns Hopkins Kelly Gynecological Oncology Service, Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, and a corresponding author on this study. “The high mortality associated with some gynecologic cancers makes screening a priority, and new diagnostic approaches are urgently needed.”

Based on previous groundwork and expertise in gynecological cancers, Dr. Gilbert, who is also a scientist from the Cancer Research Program at the RI-MUHC, proposed to the team at Johns Hopkins to collect samples not just from the cervix but also from inside the uterus, to increase the likelihood of detection of cancers from the ovaries, fallopian tubes and uterus while the cancer is still at its early stages. Her proposal paid off as the research team found that samples taken from the uterus were more likely to detect ovarian and uterine cancers than that from the cervix. “In this study, we have shown that these cancers can be diagnosed earlier by identifying the specific mutations that cause the cancer, rather than relying on indirect markers such as medical imaging and symptoms,” adds Dr. Gilbert. Learn more