Smear tests are usually used to detect abnormalities in cells that could develop into cervical cancer. Two new studies have indicated that one day they may be used to detect early stages of ovarian cancer and breast cancer.
Research suggests that DNA changes in a woman’s cervix can give warning signs of tumors elsewhere in the body.
Research led by Innsbruck University in Austria found they can also give clues about other cancers.
In the studies of more than 1,000 women, the tests were able to help spot cancers up to seven in 10 times in people aged 50 or younger and five in 10 of over-50s.
Ovarian cancer was particularly important among the researchers being that it is one of the biggest killers of all gynaecological tumors due to its late diagnosis. Most often in smear tests, abnormal test results means there have been cell changes caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV).
Treatment might be offered to remove the abnormal cells, such as laser therapy and cold coagulation, which burns the cells, or cryotherapy, which freezes them.
Cervical cancer can develop at any time so getting to know your body and what to look for is vital, researchers say.
Experts hope further trials can show smear tests can be used to detect ovarian and breast cancers as well, which could lead to them being used more regularly in the future.
In the study, published in Nature Communications, the use of smear tests in detecting ovarian cancer was analysed.
Cervical cell samples were collected from 242 women with ovarian cancer and 869 without which was led by researchers led by Doctor Martin Widschwendter.
They measured 14,000 specific epigenetic changes — which switch genes on and off — in the cells, which were collected using a smear test, to establish whether there was a pattern in those with ovarian cancer.
After establishing a pattern, they found the samples could be used to correctly identify ovarian cancer in 54% of women aged over 50 and 71% of those under 50.
Overall, the tests had a specificity of 75%.
Original content from Express UK Online. Note: Content has been edited for style and length.
Nina Alvarez is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel. Her interests include writing, particularly about the healthcare sector and the many ways it can improve to further benefit people from all walks of life.