Can a simple Pap smear help diagnose other forms of cancer? Elizabeth Tracey reports


When a woman has a Pap smear cells are collected from the uterine cervix to check for the presence of cancer. Now two new studies demonstrate that using this sample, cancers of the breast and ovary may also be identified. William Nelson, director of the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, explains.

Nelson: The DNA carries marks which tell which cells what genes are available for use. So different genes are used in cells in the eye than are used in cells in the kneecap for instance so these marks tell the cells which genes can be used. So this was a test developed by looking at the marks. They found a significant correlation between looking at marks in cells recovered by Pap smear basically and women who had breast cancer.  :28

These marks on the DNA are called methylation, where a chemical group known as a methyl group is added in certain locations. The study of these methyl groups is known as epigenetics, and may one day simplify and advance cancer detection. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.