While it is less talked about than breast or cervical cancer, endometrial cancer is one of the most common types of cancers in the United States. It’s actually the most common gynecological cancer, yet up until now, there had been no clear cut way to screen for it. But an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic may have just discovered a surprisingly easy screening method involving a common product most women use monthly — tampons.
Jamie Bakkum-Gamez, a gynecological oncologist at the Mayo Clinic discovered that women who have this common cancer usually leave DNA traces of it on their used tampons. Imagine — being able to just bring in a tampon specimen to your next OB-GYN appointment rather than having to go through yet another uncomfortable pap smear that will likely deliver inconclusive results (especially with this type of cancer). Sounds pretty great, right?
“We know that the earlier a woman is diagnosed, the better the likelihood is that she is going to have a positive outcome from cancer treatment. Our goal is to use our findings to develop a tool for the early detection of endometrial cancer that women could use in the comfort of their own homes,” said Dr. Bakkum-Gamez to EurekAlert.
She notes in the press release that the idea for her study came out of findings from a 2004 study that actually showed women with endometrial cancer left tumor cells on their tampons. While this was a revelatory discovery, there had been little to no progress made with turning the concept into a practical screening test. She decided to change that.
Dr. Bakkum-Gamez’s team took samples from 66 women who were about to undergo hysterectomies, more than half of whom had endometrial cancer. The samples were collected from tampons they had the women wear, as well as via the more traditional endometrial cancer screening process — using a wire brush to scape cells from the uterine walls. Is everyone else saying “ow?” I certainly know which method I’d prefer if given the choice.
The results were very encouraging — all the tampons collected from the women with endometrial cancer showed traces of methylation, which is essentially a chemical cancer marker. The best part about that is it’s exactly what they found with the far more invasive screening process of the wire brush scraping.
They are still a little ways away from developing an at-home screening test. However, since these initial results using women who already have the pronounced version of the disease were so positive, they are moving right into using the test for early detection on a control group of 1,000 women.
Dr. Bakkum-Gamez says the final at-home test may look a lot like the at-home test for colon cancer, Cologuard, which was recently FDA approved. She told EurekAlert, “At the heart of this approach is a desire to make cancer screening patient-centered, by using a product that is already widely accepted and readily available, even in resource-poor settings.” Plus it’s way more appealing than that wire brush sounds, which gives me the shivers just thinking about it.