A new study, funded by The Eve Appeal and published this week in the open access journal PLOS Medicine[i], has the potential to change the cancer landscape by being able to accurately identify individuals with early stage womb cancer using easily accessible body fluids.
By collecting swabs from the entrance to the womb genetic material can be easily analysed for pre-cancer/cancer without the need for an invasive womb biopsy.
How does this work?
Epigenetic[ii] changes to the HAND2 gene have, for the first time by the team of researchers, been shown to play a critical role in the development of womb cancer. HAND2 is active in the healthy womb lining where it prevents the growth-inducing effects of oestrogen. By contrast, in more than 90% of womb cancers, the HAND2 gene has undergone epigenetic changes – that effectively turns it off – leading to cancer-prone tissue.
These epigenetic changes offer the opportunity to detect endometrial cancer much easier and potentially also earlier. Worryingly, womb cancer is the most common gynaecological cancer, particularly in the wake of the current ageing and obesity epidemics.
The researchers suggest – after additional trials have confirmed these results – that this technique can be used as a test, or to screen women for womb cancer. Early detection will save lives.