Scientists say they're one step closer to being able to offer women an early detection method for ovarian and uterine cancers that are often caught late.

A team from The Research Institute of the MUHC and researchers at the Johns Hopkins Institute in the U.S. have developed a test they say is safe and could save lives.

The study was published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

The test, called Papseek, analyzes DNA in the Pap test samples and detects genetic mutations associated with gynecologic cancers.

The researchers tested it out on 627 cancer patients and 714 healthy controls.

Papseek detected 81 per cent of the uterine cancers and 33 per cent of the ovarian cancers.

The authors then tested a different, also minimally invasive, tool that gathers cells closer to tumour sites. Detection rates rose to 93 per cent and 45 per cent, respectively.

Finally, they examined Pap test fluid and tumour DNA in the blood together and were able to detect 63 per cent of ovarian cancers.

“This test goes to the very cause of the cancer,” said Dr. Lucy Gilbert, director of gynecologic cancer services at the MUHC, who has been relentlessly pursuing better screening methods for these types of cancer.

Less than two per cent of ovarian cancer patients are currently diagnosed early. It’s a sneaky disease that has no reliable screening test and by the time it's diagnosed, is usually incurable.

Papseek can perhaps allow early detection in at least half of the time.

“It is the first time in my working career that I see hope,” said Gilbert.

She said they need about four more years of study before it will be safe to use the new screening test - and try to change the odds.

“I am still doing the same surgery and chemotherapy when I started my career,” she said. “This is unacceptable.”