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Briefs: Study hints at test for ovarian cancer

  • January 12, 2013 - 5:17 PM

STUDY HINTS AT TEST FOR OVARIAN CANCER

For years, doctors have lamented that there's no Pap test for deadly ovarian cancer. Last week, 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 of women get, so that it could spot early signs of other gynecologic cancers, too.

How? It turns out that cells can flake off of tumors in the ovaries or the lining of the uterus and float down to rest in the cervix, where Pap tests are performed. These cells are too rare to recognize under the microscope. But researchers from Johns Hopkins University used some sophisticated DNA testing on the Pap samples to uncover the evidence -- 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 new technique found all the endometrial cancers and 41 percent of the ovarian tumors, the team reported Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

This is very early-stage research, and women shouldn't expect any change in their routine Paps. It will take years of additional testing to prove if the so-called PapGene technique really could work as a screening tool.

"Now the hard work begins," said Hopkins oncologist Dr. Luis Diaz, whose team is collecting hundreds of additional Pap samples for more study and is exploring ways to enhance the detection of ovarian cancer.

SUICIDAL TEENS MAY GET MISGUIDED HELP

Most teenagers who commit suicide or attempt to do so have received mental health treatment, according to researchers who suggest these adolescents aren't getting the right care to prevent such action.

Nearly 1 in 8 teenagers have persistent suicidal thoughts, 4 percent make plans to commit suicide, and another 4 percent attempt to kill themselves, according to the largest study of suicidal behaviors in U.S. adolescents recently published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. Most young people with suicidal behavior have pre-existing mental disorders, the research found.

Suicide is the third-highest cause of death among U.S. teens, after accidents and homicides.

Teenagers aren't being served effectively by the mental health system and need better prevention strategies, the study authors wrote. "Mental health professionals are not simply meeting with adolescents in response to their suicidal thoughts or behaviors," the authors said.

MOM'S BLOOD COULD REVEAL FETAL ISSUES

Fetal DNA circulating in a pregnant mother's blood can be used to detect a wide variety of genetic abnormalities before birth, opening the door for noninvasive testing for more conditions.

By sequencing DNA that escapes into women's bloodstreams, scientists were able to detect disease-causing mutations that are now normally found by piercing a mother's womb with a needle to get amniotic fluid, according to a study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Amniocentesis, the standard procedure for prenatally testing for genetic conditions such as Down syndrome, carries a low risk of miscarriage. Obtaining DNA from a blood sample from the mother carries virtually no risk and may enable doctors to expand their reach and accuracy as they look for genetic disease, said Cynthia Morton, a Harvard Medical School geneticist who performs prenatal tests at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston.

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