Ovarian Cancer Cells Found With Tampon Detection Method

Ovarian cancer cells were detected by collecting and testing DNA specimens taken from the tampons of ovarian cancer patients prior to surgery for a pelvic mass.

Ovarian cancer cells were detected by collecting and testing DNA specimens taken from vaginal tampons placed in women with advanced ovarian cancer prior to undergoing surgery for a pelvic mass, according to a small study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

“This study was limited by its small sample size and its use only in women with advanced stage disease,” Britt K. Erickson, MD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham told Cancer Network. “However, with further development of these methods and technology, we may be getting closer to understanding ways to screen for ovarian cancer.”

According to Erickson, there are currently no effective screening methods to detect ovarian cancer; therefore, most women with ovarian cancer present at an advanced stage.

“Although treatable, women are rarely cured from their advanced stage ovarian cancer,” Erickson said. “This means that until we find a way of detecting this cancer in its early stages, women will continue to die of this disease.”

Erickson and colleagues conducted a study to investigate whether tumor cells could be identified in the vagina of women with serous ovarian cancer using TP53 analysis of DNA samples taken from vaginal tampons placed prior to undergoing surgery. They enrolled 33 patients in the study, and 8 patients with advanced serous ovarian cancer were included in the analysis.  

“We were able to detect ovarian cancer cells in women with known ovarian cancer,” Erickson said. “Specifically, DNA from vaginal tampons was extracted and then, in collaboration with researchers at Johns Hopkins University, genetic analysis was performed and revealed genetic mutations that were consistent with the mutations found in the patient’s primary ovarian cancer tumor.”

Mutation analysis showed mutations in the DNA of three of the eight patients (38%). No mutations were found in the three patients who had undergone tubal ligation previously; however, mutations were found in three of the five patients without tubal ligation (60%).

According to Erickson, these results may suggest that ovarian cancer cells migrate through the fallopian tubes and then into the vagina, which can then be detected through genetic analysis. Although this research is still in its infancy, knowing that ovarian cancer cells can be detected in the vagina has implications for moving forward with developing a non-invasive screening test for this deadly disease, Erickson said.