Page last updated at 23:03 GMT, Wednesday, 19 August 2009 00:03 UK

'Simple' endometriosis test hope

Pelvic pain
Endometriosis is a painful condition

Scientists have developed a quick and simple way to diagnose endometriosis, without requiring surgery.

All that is needed is a small sample of womb lining, taken in a similar way to a smear test, that can be checked for the presence of nerve fibres.

According to the Human Reproduction journal, this can predict with nearly 100% accuracy the condition's presence.

Endometriosis is a common problem where cells that usually line the womb are found elsewhere in the body.

It affects about two million women in the UK, most of whom are diagnosed between the ages of 25 and 40.

As well as causing pain and discomfort, it can also lead to infertility.

If other doctors can confirm this test, this might become the standard way of diagnosing endometriosis
Professor David Healy

President-elect of the International Federation of Fertility Societies

Conventionally, doctors use laparoscopy to diagnose endometriosis.

This involves the woman being booked into hospital for the invasive "keyhole" surgical procedure carried out under general anaesthetic.

Laparoscopy itself can be associated with complications and can harm a woman's fertility.

In contrast, an endometrial biopsy requires no surgery and is relatively quick and easy to perform in a clinic setting with the woman fully conscious.

Non-invasive test

In a trial involving 99 women with pelvic pain, the test accurately spotted 63 out of 64 cases of endometriosis.

It correctly identified 29 out of the 34 women with no signs of endometriosis upon laparoscopy.

In the remaining six women found to have nerves in their biopsy samples, one had a previous history of endometriosis and another had physical signs that were considered too slight to be endometriosis.

Lead researcher Dr Moamar Al-Jefout of Mu'tah University in Jordan said: "This test is probably as accurate as assessment via laparoscopy, the current gold standard, especially as it is unclear how often endometriosis is overlooked, even by experienced gynaecologists.

"Endometrial biopsy is clearly less invasive than laparoscopy, and this test could help to reduce the current lengthy delay in diagnosis of the condition, as well as allowing more effective planning for formal surgical or long-term medical management."

Professor David Healy, president-elect of the International Federation of Fertility Societies, said the new simple test to diagnose endometriosis was very exciting.

"If other doctors can confirm this test, this might become the standard way of diagnosing endometriosis. This would mean that the condition could be identified earlier, which could give real benefits for infertile women," he said.

Nemone Warner, head of external relations at Endometriosis UK, said women would benefit from earlier diagnosis without the risk of surgical complications.

Mr Chris Mann, gynaecology expert and spokesman for the Endometriosis SHE Trust, said the findings were promising but larger trials were needed to prove the test's worth.

He said it would not replace the role of laparoscopy, which is useful for determining disease severity, but could be a useful addition.

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