Ovarian cancer is often called “the silent killer”. Unlike other female cancers, there is no method for early detection — symptoms are vague, mistaken for something else, and it’s often caught too late. Each day, within Australia, four women are diagnosed with the disease, and three die from it.
And now, in February — Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month — serendipity and science have collided. A study, led by researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School, found a way to detect the presence of ovarian cancer in patients using Pap test samples. Yes, using the same test women undergo to detect cervical cancer; a test that has been in place for 30 years.
Senior author of the study, and professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, Dr Amy Skubitz said in regards to the study: “We set out to identify the proteins present in Pap test samples and cervical swabs to determine whether or not the same proteins are present in ovarian cancer tumour tissues.”
What they ended up finding in the Pap test and swab samples, were that they contained proteins that were also found in the primary tumour of a woman with high-grade serous ovarian cancer. In addition to this, more than 2,000 proteins were detected in all three sample types collected. What does this mean? Well, it suggests potential biomarker candidates for ovarian cancer.
The fact that the team proved that ovarian cancer biomarker proteins are detectable in Pap test fluid and swab samples mean that Pap tests may eventually be used to detect ovarian cancer. And as Pap test screening is already widely accepted and widely used, the development of using it as a screening test for both cancers “might improve the efficacy of testing for a lethal, but elusive, disease,” according to the research.