A new imaging study hopes to make diagnosing endometriosis quicker, more accurate and reduce the need for invasive surgery.
In October 2020 the All Party Parliamentary Group on Endometriosis published a report that included within its recommendations “a commitment to drive down diagnosis times” for women with the condition. On average, it takes around 8 years for a woman to get a diagnosis of endometriosis, a figure, said the authors of the report, that had “not improved in the last decade.”
Indeed, in its report the APPG said that it was seeking a commitment from Governments in all four nations to reduce average diagnosis times with “targets of 4 years or less by 2025, and a year or less by 2030.”
Surgery often needed for endometriosis diagnosis
Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women between puberty and menopause – 1.5 million in the United Kingdom – often results in multiple general practitioner and accident and emergency department visits, multiple scans, and often laparoscopic surgery to confirm the diagnosis, as there is currently no simple diagnostic test for the condition. One of the main reasons for the delay in diagnosis is the lack of noninvasive tests capable of detecting all endometriosis subtypes – ovarian, superficial, and deep disease.
Now, experts at the Endometriosis CaRe Centre and Nuffield Department of Women’s and Reproductive Health, University of Oxford (England), in collaboration with British life sciences company Serac Healthcare, hope to establish a faster process for diagnosing endometriosis.
Christian Becker, codirector of the Endometriosis CaRe Centre in Oxford, and a study lead, said: “There is an urgent unmet clinical need for a noninvasive marker to identify or rule out endometriosis as it is such a very common disease affecting more than 190 million women worldwide.”
In the study, researchers will investigate whether a 20-minute imaging scan can detect the most common types of endometriosis, which currently require surgery to diagnose. In turn, they hope that earlier diagnosis of the condition will allow women to seek appropriate treatment sooner. They will use an experimental imaging marker – 99mTc-maraciclatide – that binds to areas of inflammation and that can be used in endometriosis to visualize the disease on a scan. The imaging marker has already been used for detecting inflammation in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Between 2 and 7 days before planned surgery for suspected endometriosis, participants will be invited for an imaging scan, and the team will compare the suspected locations of disease detected on the scan with those seen during surgery to confirm whether this imaging test could be an effective noninvasive method of detecting all endometriosis subtypes.
Doctor visits and repeated investigations reduced
The researchers commented that the potential strengths of the scan lie in the way the imaging marker binds to areas of inflammation, which may allow doctors to distinguish between new and old lesions and detect endometriosis in areas not easily seen during surgery, such as the lung.
They added that the development of a 20-minute imaging test would reduce the need for repeated visits to doctors, for repeated investigations, and for invasive surgery to obtain a diagnosis. This would ultimately “reduce the time taken to confirm or exclude endometriosis,” they pointed out.
Following the publication of the APPG report in October 2020 the group’s then chair, the late Sir David Amess, said: “Without investment in research, a reduction in diagnosis time, and appropriate NHS pathways, those with endometriosis will continue to face huge barriers in accessing the appropriate support at the right time.”
Krina Zondervan, head of department at the Nuffield Department of Women’s and Reproductive Health, University of Oxford, and a study lead, said: “This study highlights that close collaborations between academics, clinicians and industry are important to combine and accelerate discovery and innovation in addressing high-priority areas in women’s health such as endometriosis.”
David Hail, CEO of Serac Healthcare, said: “We are excited about the potential of 99mTc-maraciclatide to diagnose endometriosis noninvasively and delighted to be working with the internationally renowned team at Oxford on this important first study.”
A version of this article first appeared on Medscape UK.