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What would an endometriosis blood test mean for patients?

Experts in Australia say the creation of an endometriosis blood test — an avenue currently being explored by private researchers overseas — might not be a simple solution to the condition’s often lengthy diagnosis process.

The common condition affects roughly 10 per cent of those who menstruate, causing significant pain, bowel and bladder problems, as well as infertility.

According to charity Endometriosis UK, it takes those who have the condition an average of seven and a half years to be diagnosed.

This reality, coupled with the fact many view the laparoscopy diagnosis method as invasive, has those with endometriosis and researchers eager for a better diagnostic process.

Following the Government’s decision to invest $10 million to improve treatment and understanding of the “crippling” condition as part of its National Women’s Health Strategy from next year, the development of a test closer to home could be on the agenda.

Here’s why a test might not have the power to subvert the diagnosis process often endured by endometriosis patients.

What could a new diagnosis method mean for patients?

Private researchers in the UK have started studying the possibility of analysing blood samples for biomarkers of endometriosis that they say present themselves in the form of mitochondrial DNA mutations.

However, Dr Christian Becker, from the Nuffield Department of Women’s and Reproductive Health at the University of Oxford, and who provided data for the study, told the ABC researchers did not currently have a clinically useful biomarker that was capable of achieving this.

And, even if a blood test were created from research, it remains unknown if or how it would improve the diagnostic process.

Pelvic Pain Foundation of Australia director Dr Susan Evans said a blood test that could reliably identify endometriosis would be “great news”.

But the question remained, Dr Evans explained, as to whether such a test would be able to exclude endometriosis and thus save those who did not have the condition from surgery.

“It would take a bit of time to work out in which particular clinical situations it would be most useful, and who might benefit most from it,” she said.

Professor Luk Rombauts, World Endometriosis Society president-elect and an advisory board member to Endometriosis Australia, also said there were some “serious question marks” around the idea of an endometriosis blood test.

“Not everyone with endometriosis will have pain, or will have infertility, so [what happens] if you catch those and make them unnecessarily concerned?” he said.

Since endometriosis was first identified in the second half of the 19th century, doctors have been treating it surgically.
“Similarly, there are people out there that have fairly mild cases of the disease, and the question is, do we treat them in the same way as people with more severe cases?”

If such a blood test becomes widely available, Professor Rombauts said “we may potentially lose track of the fact that we shouldn’t ever treat the disease — you should always treat the person”.

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Source: ABC News