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Pap test being altered to spot more cancers

WASHINGTON -- For years, doctors have lamented that there's no Pap test for deadly ovarian cancer. Yesterday, scientists reported a tantalizing hint that, one day, there might be.

Researchers are trying to retool the Pap, a test for cervical cancer that millions get, so it could spot early signs of other gynecologic cancers, too.

How? It turns out that cells can flake off tumors in the ovaries or the lining of the uterus and rest in the cervix, where Pap tests are performed. The cells are too rare to recognize under the microscope. But Johns Hopkins University researchers used sophisticated DNA testing on the Pap samples to uncover gene mutations that show cancer is present.

In a pilot study, they analyzed Pap smears from 46 women already diagnosed with either ovarian or endometrial cancer. The technique found all the endometrial cancers and 41 percent of the ovarian tumors, the team reported yesterday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

But it is early-stage research. It will take years of additional testing to prove whether the PapGene technique could work as a screening tool. -- AP

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