Researchers in Baltimore are using the Pap smear to spot ovarian and endometrial cancer. Both are deadly forms of the disease for which there are currently no screening tests.
The Pap smear has proven to be a simple, effective test for cervical cancer. The drop in deaths from the disease has made it the gold standard screening tool.
Now researchers are trying to apply the test's success to ovarian and endometrial cancer.
"One of the reasons we're so excited about this research is that there are no screening tests for ovarian cancer," said Luis Diaz, M.D., an associate professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University. "It's such a deadly disease because it is detected so late."
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University assembled a list of genetic mutations common in ovarian and endometrial cancers. They then developed a test that could spot these mutations in fluid taken from a Pap smear.
"In 100 percent of endometrial cancers, we can find the exact same mutation in a tumor and a Pap smear sample," said Diaz.
They were also able to detect nearly half of ovarian cancers.
The researchers compared Pap smear samples from healthy women and those already diagnosed with the disease. One of the most significant findings is they didn't find any false positives.
"If you were told you have a diagnosis of cancer and you don't, not only is that anxiety provoking but you have to undergo lots of unnecessary tests that can be invasive and dangerous," said Diaz.
So far, the test has only been studied in the lab. Researchers hope the have a version for the doctor's office ready in three to five years.
About 20,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year. 40,000 are diagnosed with endometrial cancer. Diaz and his colleagues have invested in a company that is designing and marketing the test.