Science

Simple urine test could be used detect womb cancer

Urine test can detect womb cancer with 91% accuracy, and could spare women from invasive and painful detection procedures

  • University of Manchester researchers conducted a proof-of-concept study  
  • Studied urine and vaginal swab samples on a standard microscope 
  • Found this was able to accurately spot womb cancer nine times out of ten 
  • Scientists hope it can replace the highly-invasive and often painful hysteroscopy that is currently used 

A simple test has been developed which can detect womb cancer from self-administered vaginal swabs or urine. 

Signs of the cancer —the fourth most common among women in the UK — can be seen through a microscope as malignant cells are captured by the sample.

In a proof-of-concept study, researchers used the new method and identified 98 of 103 cases of women who had been diagnosed with the disease.

It also was able to correctly spot when a patient did not have womb cancer 88.9 per cent of the time. 

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Signs of womb cancer —the fourth most common among women in the UK — can be seen in cells from the sample using a standard laboratory microscope

Signs of womb cancer —the fourth most common among women in the UK — can be seen in cells from the sample using a standard laboratory microscope

Womb cancer is the sixth most common cancer affecting women globally, with approximately 382,000 new diagnoses and 89,900 deaths in 2018.

Postmenopausal bleeding often starts soon after the cancer develops and if treated the prognosis is often good. 

However, one in five cases are not spotted until the disease has progressed to an advanced phase and these patients have just a 15 per cent chance of living more than five years. 

Current screening for the disease is done through a highly-invasive procedure known as a hysteroscopy.

It requires the insertion of a long, narrow device through the vagina and cervix to the womb. 

A light and camera on the end of the tool allows clinicians to see on a screen the inside of the womb and identify any anomalies. 

Although effective, the ordeal is fraught with difficulties and one in three are prematurely halted due to either technical issues or intolerable pain.

Local anaesthetic can be used to numb the cervix to relax the muscles and the whole process can last up to half an hour, according to the NHS website.  

Current screening for womb cancer is done through a highly-invasive procedure known as a hysteroscopy. It requires the insertion of a long and narrow device through the vagina and cervix to the womb. Pictured, the tool used for a hysteroscopy

Current screening for womb cancer is done through a highly-invasive procedure known as a hysteroscopy. It requires the insertion of a long and narrow device through the vagina and cervix to the womb. Pictured, the tool used for a hysteroscopy

Current screening for womb cancer is done through a highly-invasive procedure known as a hysteroscopy. It requires the insertion of a long and narrow device through the vagina and cervix to the womb. Pictured, the tool used for a hysteroscopy

Women who work outdoors are 17% LESS likely to get breast cancer 

Women who work outdoors and are regularly exposed to high levels of sunlight are less at risk of developing breast cancer, a new study shows. 

Danish researchers found that women who spent more than 20 years working outdoors had a 17 per cent lower chance of a breast cancer diagnosis. 

The team hypothesises that the effect may be due to higher levels of Vitamin D, which is made by the body when it is exposed to sunlight. 

However, the study did not specifically look at individual vitamin D levels and was unable to draw a definitive link between supplementation, diet, vitamin D levels and, ultimately, risk of breast cancer. 

Womb cancer causes malignant cells to shed through the cervix and these can be captured via a swab or urine samples. 

Developers of the new method say this is less expensive, quicker and pain-free as the sample can be collected by women in the comfort of their own home.  

The University of Manchester researchers behind the study hope it can be incorporated into clinical practice once large scale trials have been carried out. 

‘Our results show that womb cancer cells can be detected in urine and vaginal samples using a microscope,’ said Professor Crosbie.

‘Women who test positive with this test could be referred for diagnostic investigations while women who test negative are safely reassured without the need for unpleasant, invasive, anxiety-provoking and expensive procedures.

‘We think our new test could offer a simple, acceptable, and easy to administer solution that could be used in primary care as a triage tool for women with suspected womb cancer.’  

She adds: ‘New strategies to facilitate early diagnosis of womb cancer are urgently needed to enable curative hysterectomy for women who present with biologically aggressive disease.

‘However, though postmenopausal bleeding is a recognisable symptom, only 5 to 10 per cent of women with it have sinister underlying pathology- so this test, if adopted, will put these patients’ minds at rest.’ 

The findings have been published in Nature Communications.  


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