Tampons could one day help doctors spot early-stage ovarian cancer in women at high risk for this deadly disease, a small new study suggests.

In the study, researchers found tumor DNA in cells trapped in ordinary tampons that were placed in the vaginas of ovarian cancer patients.

“In about 60 percent of patients who had their [fallopian] tubes still intact, we were able to pick up tumor cells, or essentially tumor DNA, in the vaginal tract,” said Dr. Charles Landen, an associate professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and one of the study researchers. (Having intact fallopian tubes is important to the findings because the tubes are the conduits that connect the ovaries with the lower parts of the reproductive system, including the uterus and the vagina.)

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