A new "heat test" may provide a less invasive way to detect cervical cancer.
In a study published in peer-reviewed journal PLOS One Wednesday, a team from the University of Louisville in Kentucky described a new cervical cancer screening method that can also indicate the stage of the cancer.
So how does it work? Using some of the patient's blood plasma, researchers generate a plasma thermogram by heating the sample. Once the blood plasma is "melted," it produces a unique signature based on proteins in blood. The signature then serves as an indicator, denoting whether the specific biomarkers for cervical cancer are present.
The heat test also goes a step further and allows researchers to see the extent to which the cancer has spread.
Lead researcher Nichola Garbett, Ph.D., said the key to screening for the cancer lies in the shape of each patient's individual heat profile. By comparing test results, doctors should also be able to adjust cancer treatments for each patient.
"We have been able to establish thermograms for a number of diseases. Comparing blood samples of patients who are being screened or treated against those thermograms should enable us to better monitor patients as they are undergoing treatment and follow-up," he said in a statement released by the university.
Currently, doctors most often perform a Pap smear -- a procedure that involves analyzing cells collected from inside the cervix -- to detect abnormalities that could lead to cervical cancer. The invasive test may be completed in conjunction with a DNA test for human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection known to cause cervical cancer.
Though further clinical research is required, the team is hopeful that the heat profiles can serve as a "complementary diagnostic tool" for cervical cancer screening, they write in the study.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, cervical cancer used to be one of the leading causes of cancer death for women in the United States, but the number of deaths has decreased, thanks, in part, to a variety of screening methods. From 2003 through 2007, about two out of 100,000 women died per year as a result of the specific type of cancer, the National Institutes of Health reports.