Glimmer of Hope: Johns Hopkins Uses Pap Smear Test Cervical Fluid to Detect Ovarian & Endometrial Cancers

Using cervical fluid obtained during routine Pap tests, scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have developed a test to detect ovarian and endometrial cancers. The investigators note that larger-scale studies are needed prior to clinical use on women. 

Using cervical fluid obtained during routine Pap tests, scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have developed a test to detect ovarian and endometrial cancers. Results of the experiments are published in the January 9 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

In a pilot study, the “PapGene” test, which relies on genomic sequencing of cancer-specific mutations, accurately detected all 24 (100 percent) endometrial cancers and nine of 22 (41 percent) ovarian cancers. The endometrial cancers may have been easier to find because cells from those tumors do not have as far to travel as ovarian cancer cells. The Hopkins researchers will study whether inserting the Pap brush deeper, testing during different times of the menstrual cycle, or other factors might improve detection of ovarian cancer.

The investigators note that larger-scale studies are needed prior to clinical use on women, but they believe the test has the potential to pioneer genomic-based, cancer screening tests. [Emphasis added]

The Papanicolaou (Pap) test, during which cells collected from the cervix are examined for microscopic signs of cancer, is widely and successfully used to screen for cervical cancers. Today, many women’s Paps undergo an additional DNA-based test to see if they harbor the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can spur cervical cancer. However, no routine screening method is available for ovarian or endometrial cancers.

 Luis Diaz, M.D.

Luis Alberto Diaz, M.D.

Since the Pap test occasionally contains cells shed from the ovaries or endometrium, cancer cells arising from these organs could be present in the fluid as well, says Luis Diaz, M.D., associate professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins, as well as director of translational medicine at the Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics and Therapeutics and director of the Swim Across America Laboratory, also at Johns Hopkins. The laboratory is sponsored by a volunteer organization that raises funds for cancer research through swim events. “Our genomic sequencing approach may offer the potential to detect these cancer cells in a scalable and cost-effective way,” adds Diaz.

Hear Dr. Diaz discuss the PapGene test research in this hyperlinked podcast, courtesy of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Cervical fluid of patients with gynecologic cancer carries normal cellular DNA mixed together with DNA from cancer cells, according to the investigators. The investigators’ task was to use genomic sequencing to distinguish cancerous from normal DNA.

The scientists had to determine the most common genetic changes in ovarian and endometrial cancers in order to prioritize which genomic regions to include in their test. They searched publicly available genome-wide studies of ovarian cancer, including those done by other Johns Hopkins investigators, to find mutations specific to ovarian cancer. Such genome-wide studies were not available for the most common type of endometrial cancer, so they conducted genome-wide sequencing studies on 22 of these endometrial cancers.

From the ovarian and endometrial cancer genome data, the Johns Hopkins-led team identified 12 of the most frequently mutated genes in both cancers and developed the PapGene test with this insight in mind.

The investigators then applied PapGene on Pap test samples from ovarian and endometrial cancer patients at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the University of São Paulo in Brazil and ILSbio, a tissue bank. The new test detected both early- and late-stage disease in the endometrial and ovarian cancers tested. No healthy women in the control group were misclassified as having cancer.

Animation of PapGene:

Looking ahead, the investigators’ next steps include applying PapGene on more samples and working to increase the test’s sensitivity in detecting ovarian cancer. “Performing the test at different times during the menstrual cycle, inserting the cervical brush deeper into the cervical canal, and assessing more regions of the genome may boost the sensitivity,” says Chetan Bettegowda, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins and a member of the Ludwig Center as well.

Together, ovarian and endometrial cancers are diagnosed in nearly 70,000 women in the United States each year, and about one-third of them will die from it. “Genomic-based tests could help detect ovarian and endometrial cancers early enough to cure more of them,” says graduate student Yuxuan Wang, who notes that the cost of the test could be similar to current cervical fluid HPV testing, which is less than $100.

PapGene is a high-sensitivity approach for the detection of cancer-specific DNA mutations, according to the investigators; however, false mutations can be erroneously created during the many steps — including amplification, sequencing and analysis — required to prepare the DNA collected from a Pap test specimen for sequencing. This required the investigators to build a safeguard into PapGene’s sequencing method, designed to weed out artifacts that could lead to misleading test results.

“If unaccounted for, artifacts could lead to a false positive test result and incorrectly indicate that a healthy person has cancer,” says graduate student Isaac Kinde.

Kinde added a unique genetic barcode — a random set of 14 DNA base pairs — to each DNA fragment at an initial stage of the sample preparation process. Although each DNA fragment is copied many times before eventually being sequenced, all of the newly copied DNA can be traced back to one original DNA molecule through their genetic barcodes. If the copies originating from the same DNA molecule do not all contain the same mutation, then an artifact is suspected and the mutation is disregarded. However, bonafide mutations, which exist in the sample before the initial barcoding step, will be present in all of the copies originating from the original DNA molecule.

The Johns Hopkins test results demonstrate that DNA from most endometrial and a fraction of ovarian cancers can be detected in a standard liquid-based Pap smear specimen obtained during routine pelvic examination. Although improvements need to be made before applying this test in a routine clinical manner, it represents a promising first step toward a broadly applicable screening methodology for the early detection of gynecologic malignancies.

“This is very encouraging, and it shows great potential,” said American Cancer Society genetics expert Michael Melner.

“We are a long way from being able to see any impact on our patients,” cautioned Dr. Shannon N. Westin of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Westin reviewed the research in an accompanying editorial, and said the ovarian cancer detection would need improvement if the test is to work. But Dr. Westin noted that ovarian cancer has poor survival rates because it’s rarely caught early. “If this screening test could identify ovarian cancer at an early stage, there would be a profound impact on patient outcomes and mortality,” Westin said.

More than 22,000 U.S. women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, and more than 15,000 die. Symptoms such as bloating and pelvic or abdominal pain are seldom obvious until the cancer is more advanced, and numerous attempts at screening tests have failed.

Endometrial cancer affects about 47,000 U.S. women a year, and kills about 8,000. There is no screening test for it either, but most women are diagnosed early because of postmenopausal bleeding.

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Funding for the research was provided by Swim Across America, the Commonwealth Fund, the Hilton-Ludwig Cancer Prevention Initiative, the Virginia & D.K. Ludwig Fund for Cancer Research, the Experimental Therapeutics Center of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Chia Family Foundation, The Honorable Tina Brozman Foundation, the United Negro College Fund/Merck Graduate Science Research Dissertation Fellowship, the Burroughs Wellcome Career Award for Medical Scientists, the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance and the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute (N01-CN-43309, CA129825, CA43460).

In addition to Kinde, Bettegowda, Wang and Diaz, investigators participating in the research include Jian Wu, Nishant Agrawal, Ie-Ming Shih, Robert Kurman, Robert Giuntoli, Richard Roden and James R. Eshleman from Johns Hopkins; Nickolas Papadopoulos, Kenneth Kinzler and Bert Vogelstein from the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins; Fanny Dao and Douglas A. Levine from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; and Jesus Paula Carvalho and Suely Kazue Nagahashi Marie from the University of São Paulo.

Papadopoulos, Kinzler, Vogelstein and Diaz are co-founders of Inostics and Personal Genome Diagnostics. They own stocks in the companies and are members of their Scientific Advisory Boards. Inostics and Personal Genome Diagnostics have licensed several patent applications from Johns Hopkins. These relationships are subject to certain restrictions under The Johns Hopkins University policy, and the terms of these arrangements are managed by the university in accordance with its conflict-of-interest policies.

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Citations:

I. Kinde, C. Bettegowda, Y. Wang, J. et. al. Evaluation of DNA from the Papanicolaou Test to Detect Ovarian and Endometrial Cancers. Sci. Transl. Med. 5, 167ra4 (2013).

S. N. Westin, G. B. Mills, A. P. Myers, Repurposing the Pap Smear: One Step Closer to Gynecologic Cancer Screening. Sci. Transl. Med. 5, 167ps1 (2013).

Additional Sources:

Johns Hopkins Scients Use Pap Test Fluid to Detect Ovarian, Endometrial Cancers, John Hopkins Medicine, Press Release, January 9, 2013.

Retooling Pap Test To Spot More Kinds Of Cancer, The Associated Press via National Public Radio, January 9, 2013.

OVA1 Blood Test Detects Ovarian Cancer In Women With A Known Ovarian Mass More Accurately Than CA-125

A study published online in Obstetrics & Gynecology reports that the OVA1 blood test detects ovarian cancer in women with a previously discovered ovarian mass more accurately than the CA-125 blood test. The study also considers OVA1’s place in future surgical referral guidelines.

A study published online ahead of print in the June 2011 edition of Obstetrics & Gynecology demonstrated that American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) guidelines for determining the likelihood that an ovarian mass is cancerous prior to surgery would accurately identify more women with ovarian cancer if the OVA1 blood test were used in place of the currently recommended CA-125 (cancer antigen 125) blood test. The study builds on prior research that shows accurate assessment of an ovarian mass for cancer prior to surgery can affect both treatment decisions and health outcomes for women with ovarian cancer.

… When OVA1 was used in place of CA 125 as recommend in the [ACOG] guidelines, 94% of malignancies in women of all ages in the study were accurately detected compared to 77% with CA-125. In addition, OVA1 improved sensitivity in premenopausal women, accurately detecting 91% of women with ovarian cancer in fewer than 58% with CA125. … The study also showed that the OVA1 test was about two times more likely to incorrectly identify women as high risk for ovarian cancer when they were not (a “false positive“) as compared to the CA-125 test overall. … 

OVA1 is the first test cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for aiding in the pre-surgical evaluation of a woman’s ovarian mass for cancer. Vermillion, Inc., a molecular diagnostics company, developed OVA1, and Quest Diagnostics Incorporated, the world’s leading diagnostic testing company, offers OVA1 testing services in the United States and India. Quest Diagnostics and Vermillion both participated in the study and Vermillion also helped fund the study. Neither company had any involvement in the development of the manuscript.

Clinical practice guidelines recommend that women with ovarian cancer be under the care of a gynecologic oncologist, although only an estimated one-third of initial surgeries for ovarian cancer are performed by these specialists. ACOG guidelines for the management of ovarian masses recommend that physicians evaluate several factors, including menopausal status, imaging findings, family history, and CA 125 blood test levels, to divide women into low- and high-risk categories on which treatment plans, including surgical referral, are based.

The study evaluated the performance of the ACOG guidelines using the CA-125 test versus the OVA1 test in 516 women scheduled for surgery for an ovarian mass across a diverse group of primary and specialty care centers. When OVA1 was used in place of CA-125 as recommend in the guidelines, 94% of malignancies in women of all ages in the study were accurately detected compared to 77% with CA 125. In addition, OVA1 improved sensitivity in premenopausal women, accurately detecting 91% of women with ovarian cancer in fewer than 58% with CA-125.

Rachel Ware Miller, M.D., Assistant Professor, Gynecologic Oncology, Markey Cancer Center, University of Kentucky

“The high sensitivity in premenopausal women and early stage cancers is where CA-125 and the College guidelines have underperformed,” wrote investigator Rachel Ware Miller, M.D., assistant professor gynecologic oncology at the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center, in the study. ” Identifying these patients for referral is valuable because many are not receiving appropriate surgical staging and treatment. An effective preoperative test, particularly for younger women and early-stage cancers, can have a favorable effect on women’s health as survival is better in these populations.”

OVA1 when used with the College guidelines was also effective at detecting advanced disease, when surgery and chemotherapy can “improve overall survival,” wrote Dr. Miller.

The study also showed that the OVA1 test was about two times more likely to incorrectly identify women as high risk for ovarian cancer when they were not (a “false positive“), as compared to the CA-125 test overall. However, as OVA1 is only indicated for women for whom surgery is already planned, a higher rate of false positives would increase the possibility that a woman’s surgery is performed by a gynecologic oncologist rather than a gynecologist or other non-specialist.

The study follows the March 2011 publication in Obstetrics & Gynecology, the official publication of ACOG, of an updated committee opinion, The Role Of The Obstetrician-Gynecologist In The Early Detection Of Epithelial Ovarian Cancer, by ACOG and Society of Gynecologic Oncologists (SGO) that cited the FDA clearance of OVA1 (in 2009) and indicated that OVA1 “appears to improve the predictability of ovarian cancer in women with pelvic masses” and “may be useful for evaluating women with a pelvic mass.”

“Prior to OVA1’s clearance by the FDA, the only lab test physicians could use to assess the likelihood that an ovarian mass was malignant prior to surgery was CA-125, even though CA-125 is not indicated for this use and its performance is variable,” said Dr. Eric T. Fung, chief science officer, Vermillion, Inc. “These data should give physicians more confidence to refer women whose OVA1 test result indicates a high likelihood of cancer to a gynecologic oncologist for surgery.”

Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers in the United States and the fifth-leading cause of cancer deaths in women. Ovarian masses affect an estimated one million women and lead to as many 300,000 ovarian mass surgeries in the United States each year, according to an analysis by third parties on behalf of Quest Diagnostics.

About OVA1®

OVA1 is the first test cleared by FDA for aiding in the pre-surgical evaluation of a woman’s ovarian mass for cancer, and also is the first protein-based In Vitro Diagnostic Multi-Variate Index Assays (IVDMIA), a new class of state of the art software-based diagnostics. The test utilizes five well-established biomarkers — transthyretin (TT or prealbumin), apoolipoprotein A-1 (Apo A-1), beta 2-microglobulin (beta 2M), transferrin (Tfr) and cancer antigen 125 (CA-125 II) — and proprietary software to determine the likelihood of malignancy in women with ovarian mass for whom surgery is planned.

OVA1 is indicated for women who meet the following criteria: (i) over age 18, (ii) ovarian adnexal mass present for which surgery is planned, and (iii) not yet referred to an oncologist. It is an aid to further assess the likelihood that malignancy is present when the physician’s independent clinical and radiological evaluation does not indicate malignancy. The test should not be used without an independent clinical/radiological evaluation and is not intended to be a screening test or to determine whether a patient should proceed to surgery. Incorrect use of the OVA1 Test carries the risk of unnecessary testing, surgery, and/or delayed diagnosis.

About Quest Diagnostics

Quest Diagnostics is the world’s leading provider of diagnostic testing, information and services that patients and doctors need to make better healthcare decisions. The company offers the broadest access to diagnostic testing services through its network of laboratories and patient service centers, and provides interpretive consultation through its extensive medical and scientific staff. Quest Diagnostics is a pioneer in developing innovative diagnostic tests and advanced healthcare information technology solutions that help improve patient care. Additional company information is available at http://www.questdiagnostics.com/.

About Vermillion, Inc.

Vermillion, Inc. is dedicated to the development and commercialization of novel high-value diagnostic tests that help physicians diagnose, treat and improve outcomes for patients. Vermillion, along with its prestigious scientific collaborators, has diagnostic programs in oncology, cardiology and women’s health. Additional information about Vermillion can be found on the Web at http://www.vermillion.com/.

Sources:

ASCO Releases Studies From Upcoming 2010 Annual Meeting

Yesterday, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) made available more than 4,000 medical abstracts which are publicly posted online at http://www.abstract.asco.org. A hyperlink to the 2010 ASCO Annual Meeting ovarian cancer abstracts is provided below.  The ASCO Annual Meeting will be held June 4-8, 2010 at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois.

The 2010 ASCO Annual Meeting will be held June 4-8, 2010 at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois.

Yesterday, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) highlighted six studies in a press briefing from among more than 4,000 abstracts publicly posted online at www.abstract.asco.org in advance of ASCO’s 46th Annual Meeting.  An additional 14 plenary, late-breaking and other major studies will be released at the Annual Meeting and highlighted in on-site press conferences.

The meeting, which is expected to draw approximately 30,000 cancer specialists, will be held June 4-June 8, 2010, at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois. The theme of this year’s meeting is “Advancing Quality Through Innovation.”

“Our growing understanding of cancer’s complex behavior is being translated into better, more targeted drugs against a variety of tumors,” said Douglas W. Blayney, MD, President of ASCO, professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School and medical director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Michigan. “These studies show that investment in cancer research pays off. We’re developing more personalized approaches to treating patients of all ages and across all cancer types, we’re learning how to use current treatments more effectively, and we’re identifying new ways to help patients live long, healthy lives following treatment.”

“Clinical trials are essential to continued progress against cancer. Yet, the nation’s federally funded clinical trial system is at a breaking point,” said George W. Sledge Jr, MD, ASCO President-Elect, Ballve-Lantero Professor of Oncology and professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine. “ASCO has called for a doubling of support for federally funded clinical cancer research within the next five years. We’ve made impressive strides against this disease, and it’s vital that the nation put more resources into these programs to continue the momentum.

Relevant studies highlighted in the May 20th press briefing include:

  • Promising New Ovarian Cancer Screening Strategy Developed for Post-Menopausal Women at Average Risk: A promising new screening approach for post-menopausal women at average risk of ovarian cancer is feasible and produces very few false-positive results. The method uses a mathematical model combining trends in CA-125 blood test results and a patient’s age, followed by transvaginal ultrasound and referral to a gynecologic oncologist, if necessary.
  • Yoga Improves Sleep and Quality of Life, Lessens Fatigue for Cancer Survivors: Sleep problems and fatigue are among the most common side effects experienced by cancer survivors. A four-week yoga program involving breathing, meditation, postures and other techniques helped cancer survivors sleep better, reduced fatigue and the use of sleep aids, and improved their quality of life.

If you are interested in reviewing the medical abstract subject listing, CLICK HERE.

If you are interested in reviewing the ovarian cancer medical abstracts, CLICK HERE.

Source: ASCO Releases Studies From Upcoming Annual Meeting — – Important Advances in Targeted Therapies, Screening, and Quality of Life, News Release, American Society of Clinical Oncology, May 20, 2010. For a complete PDF copy of the ASCO May 20, 2010 press release, CLICK HERE.