A new study indicates that scientists have discovered a method for predicting cervical cancer that could be extrapolated for use in predicting breast, womb, and ovarian cancer.

The scientists, who hail from the University of Innsbruck and University College London, examined DNA methylation, which adds information to the DNA in cells to tell cells which parts of the DNA to respond to. One of the dangers of cervical cancer is that it may show no symptoms early on and it also predominates among younger women.

‘The idea is that we can use one single cervical cancer to use to predict for four cancers – womb, breast,” Dr. Chiara Herzog of the University of Innsbruck, Austria, and one of the authors of the study, stated to The Daily Mail. She noted that other tests rely on cancer cells jettisoned by the cancer, but the authors’ study did not need cancer to be present.

“These look for methylation signatures so factors that drive cancer in other tissues like breast and ovaries so lifetime exposure to hormones can also be read out by the methylation signature in the cervical cells,” she continued, adding, “We call it a surrogate effect. So instead of needing a test for each, you only need one. It sounds futuristic but I hope we can implement this soon.”

Among women in the study who showed no sign of cell changes but harbored the human papilloma virus (HPV), which catalyzes most cervical cancer, the new test found 55% of women who would suffer cell changes in the next four years, The Guardian reported. More often than not, the immune system remedies an HPV infection within two years. But cases also abound of the HPV surviving and later developing into cervical cancer.

“This new method is more specific and doesn’t lead to over-treatment, which is good news for cervical cancer prevention and great news for everyone who needs to be screened,” Athena Lamnisos, chief executive of the Eve Appeal charity, celebrated. “It’s so welcome to see screening tools and predictive tests becoming more effective. We want to prevent cancer – and we know with cervical cancer that we can intervene at an early stage.”

Co-author Professor Martin Widschwendter, from UCL, asserted, “Importantly, our other work has shown how testing the same cervical sample can also deliver information on a woman’s risk of three other major cancers – breast, ovarian and womb cancers. Building new, holistic, risk-predictive screening programs around existing, effective cervical sample collection offers real potential for cancer prevention in the future.”

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