Smear test: Cervical screening can now detect tumours in other parts of the body

There is steadfast advancement in cancer diagnosis, with a multi-function role of the smear test from the cervix now used to detect tumours in other regions of the body.

A recent study conducted by Nature Communications states that cells collected during a smear test—to this day designed to identify cervical cancer—may also be used to detect tumours in other regions of the body.

Higher remission rate

The study concludes that ovarian and breast cancers can now be detected through a smear test. Health professionals will be able to identify certain patterns in smear test results that might give an early warning for other types of cancers.

This is good news as benign tumours are easier to treat, providing a higher remission rate for the patient. Usually, ovarian cancer cells are hard to detect and even harder to treat—thus, any early signs of the same is a boon.

Prof Widschwendter talks to BBCNews about his research and says:

What we are talking about is identifying women at higher risk who might not otherwise know it. They can then have additional cancer checks. It's a bit like checking blood pressure to see who is at risk of heart problems.

Technological advancement has allowed us to identify and catch the early molecular changes noticed in cancerous cells. Now, smear-test samples taken for detecting cervical cancer can also detect cancerous cells elsewhere in the woman's body.

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Need bigger sample size

To give definitive answers and to determine if cervical cells really may diagnose other tumours at an earlier stage, bigger sample sizes with research conducted over longer lengths of time are essential.

Dr Julie Sharp, from Cancer Research UK, told BBC News:

Screening for cervical cancer is already an invaluable tool, so it's interesting to see if cell samples taken through screening could be used in future to detect other cancers.
However, we need further research to see how accurate this method is at detecting women with ovarian and breast cancer.
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