It’s annoying, invasive and uncomfortable: Your pap smear. Many women cringe at the thought of getting one. The Pap smear is designed to look at cervical cells in order to detect abnormal changes and growths, which may indicate cancer. The procedure has saved thousands of lives by catching cervical cancer early, allowing doctors to treat and eliminate the cancer before it can cause a problem. Since its inception, the Pap smear has reduced cervical cancer-related deaths by more than 75%. If this inexpensive exam could detect other hard-to-find cancers, it would have the potential to save even more lives and give women more incentive to visit their doctor.
In the future, this may become a possibility. Preliminary research suggests that the Pap smear can help doctors test for other gynecologic cancers – including ovarian and endometrial (uterine) cancers.
Researchers are looking at more sophisticated methods of analyzing samples obtained from routine pap smears. With the right technology and techniques, doctors may be able to detect cancerous cells from ovarian and endometrial cancer growths. Because of helpful genetic research on ovarian and endometrial cancers, one may theoretically be able to test for known mutations in cells that can indicate a cancer.
The researchers first assessed and established the genetic mutations one would have to look for in order to detect these cancers, matching the mutations with tumors in 46 patients who had those cancers. After finding six subtypes of ovarian cancer and three subtypes of endometrial cancer, the researchers could use specific laboratory techniques to amplify the genetic samples and make it easier to detect something that would indicate the presence of a cancerous mutation.
The success of this process relies on the idea that cancerous cells from the ovaries and uterus travel to the cervical area with their detectable genetic material. In patients who have already been diagnosed with these cancers, the researchers were able to find cancerous genetic mutations in the cervixes of 100% of the endometrial cancer patients and 41% of ovarian cancer patients.
However, these methods are still in the experimental stages and years of development and research are required before they can be introduced in mainstream gynecologic practices. More research needs to be done on larger groups of healthy women to truly test the Pap smear’s ability to detect early stages of ovarian or endometrial cancers in the general population. Until then, stay informed about ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer.
Be vigilant and listen to your body for the following ovarian cancer warning signs:
- Bloating or increased abdominal size, which occurs almost every day and persists for at least 2 weeks.
- Pelvic or abdominal pain, which occurs on most days for 2-3 weeks.
- Difficulty eating or early satiety (feeling full earlier); cancer affects the ability of the intestines to hold ingested food.
- Going to the bathroom more often than usual may also be a sign of a growing cancer, though it is more commonly caused by urinary tract infections.
- A personal or family history of cancer – especially breast, ovarian or colon cancer – should add to your concern for developing cancer in the future.
Use Doctor Oz’s Ovarian Cancer One-Sheet to track any symptoms you may be experiencing. If you have symptoms one through four, see your physician, who can provide a full physical exam and administer the available tests for ovarian cancer.
Endometrial cancer warning signs include abnormal vaginal bleeding, especially after menopause. If you’re pre-menopausal, experiencing increased menstrual flow, or bleeding between periods, these symptoms may indicate an endometrial growth. See your doctor if you experience these symptoms.