Combining copy number, methylation markers, and mutations as a panel for endometrial cancer detection via intravaginal tampon collection

Gynecol Oncol. 2020 Feb;156(2):387-392. doi: 10.1016/j.ygyno.2019.11.028. Epub 2019 Nov 28.


Objective: We aimed to assess whether endometrial cancer (EC) can be detected in shed DNA collected with vaginal tampon by analyzing copy number, methylation markers, and mutations.

Methods: Tampons were collected prior to hysterectomy from 38 EC patients and 28 women with benign indications. Extracted tampon DNA underwent the following: 1) low-coverage whole genome sequencing (LC-WGS) to assess copy number, 2) pyrosequencing to measure percent promotor methylation of HOXA9, RASSF1, and CDH13 and 3) next generation sequencing (NGS) to identify mutations in 19 genes associated with EC identified through The Cancer Genome Atlas. Sensitivity and specificity for each test and test combinations were calculated.

Results: Methylation analysis yielded the highest specificities but lowest sensitivities (37-40% sensitivity; 100% specificity for HOXA9, RASSF1 and HTR1B) while mutation analysis had improved sensitivity (50% sensitivity; 83% specificity). Only one "false positive" result for copy number variants was identified among women with benign surgical indications, which was based on detection of copy number changes, and associated with a leiomyosarcoma that was only recognized at hysterectomy. Considering any of the 3 biomarker classes as a positive, resulted in a sensitivity of 92% and specificity of 86%. Mutation analysis did not add sensitivity to the combination of analysis of copy number and methylation.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates a proof-of-principle for non-invasive yet precise detection of endometrial cancer. We propose that with improved biomarker testing, it may be possible to develop a clinically useful test for detecting EC.

Keywords: Cancer detection; Copy number; Endometrial cancer; Methylation; Mutation; Tampon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Endometrial Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Endometrial Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Endometrial Neoplasms / pathology
  • Female
  • Gene Dosage*
  • Humans
  • Menstrual Hygiene Products*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation
  • Uterine Diseases / diagnosis
  • Uterine Diseases / genetics
  • Uterine Diseases / pathology
  • Vaginal Smears / methods


  • Biomarkers, Tumor