Endometriosis occurs when tissue lining the inner walls of the uterus, or endometrium, grows elsewhere, most commonly in the ovaries and reproductive organs, but also in the bladder or bowel. The condition can cause severe pain, especially during menstruation, and infertility.
Despite its growing recognition among health care professionals, women can still wait up to 10 years to be correctly diagnosed. The diagnosis often involves somewhat invasive laparoscopic surgery. It does not require large incisions, but does require a general anesthetic.
“Endometriosis is a progressive disease and long delays before diagnosis and treatment allows the condition to advance — so there is an urgent need for a sensitive and specific test for the diagnosis,” Robert Markham, a scientist and senior lecturer in obstetrics and gynecology at the university’s Central Clinical School, said in a press release. “We’re currently working on a non-invasive test for endometriosis to make diagnosis faster and easier.”
Fred Wong, the project’s lead researcher, said the team wants to develop a test that checks urine samples for 11 proteins associated with the condition.
“These 11 proteins are potential biomarkers, so we could use these proteins to potentially develop a screening test of endometriosis,” he said.
Such a tool, he added, could be a game-changer in the diagnosis, treatment and management of endometriosis.
“We could go to high school girls and give them some sort of a test to detect whether this disease is developing,” Wong said, noting that the disease affects 176 million people worldwide, of which 10 percent are in child-bearing ages.
To bring greater attention to endometriosis, the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence released new guidelines this month calling on general practitioners to consider the disease when patients report severe abdominal or pelvic pain, or if an examination leads to abnormal findings.
Markham said similar heightened awareness is needed among doctors in Australia. Existing efforts, he said, have brought about only “very slow change.”