SOUNDS OF HOPE

New ultrasound test may screen endometrial cancer

British doctors may have just discovered the first and only test for detecting cancer in the lining of the uterus (endometrium).

Using a special technique called vaginal ultrasound, researchers uncovered something that all women with endometrial cancer had in common. All of the cancers spotted in their study of 386 women were associated with an endometrial lining that was thicker than 4 millimeters. Anything measuring less than that---no cancer (Lancet, June 30, 1990).

Unlike the more common type of ultrasound, in which a probe is run over the belly, this technique uses a small probe that is painlessly inserted into the vagina. This slender detective uses sound waves to give doctors a visual picture of the uterine lining.

What makes this so exciting is that until now, no screening tool existed that aimed specifically at uncovering this type of cancer. "Vaginal and cervical Pap smears won't detect most cases of endometrial cancer," says M. Steven Piver, M.D., chief of gynecologic oncology at the Roswell Park Memorial Institute.

"Having an endometrium thicker than 4 millimeters doesn't mean you have cancer," he says. "It just means you may be at greater risk." Although not available yet, if vaginal ultrasound proves successful in future research, it may be ideal for screening high-risk women. It could be a preliminary step before the more invasive procedure, dilation and curettage, which involves scraping the uterine wall.

Included in the high-risk group, says Dr. Piver, may be women over age 60 who haven't stopped menstruating, those who are overweight by 25 pounds or more, those on estrogen replacement therapy and those who have a family history of uterine cancer.

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By Greg Gutfeld

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