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New testing method may help doctors diagnose early-stage ovarian cancer

Category: Ovarian

Over the last few years, researchers have worked hard to design an accurate testing method capable of identifying early stage ovarian cancer. Fortunately, scientists have recently developed a comprehensive test which combines a noninvasive contrast-enhanced ultrasound imaging technique with the proteomic analysis of a blood sample. Researchers believe that the testing procedure may help physicians diagnose the disease before it becomes life-threatening.

Ovarian cancer is currently the fifth most common cancer among women. More than 21,000 individuals were diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year, resulting in nearly 15,000 deaths. Approximately two-thirds of deaths from the disease occur in women over the age of 55.

Although the cause of ovarian cancer is unknown, doctors have identified several associated risk factors, including a family or personal history of breast cancer, giving birth at an advanced age and taking estrogen replacement medication.

For decades, ovarian cancer has been known as "the silent killer" because it is usually not diagnosed until it has spread to other areas of the body. Only 20 percent of ovarian cancers are discovered before tumor growth has metastasized beyond the ovaries.

Fortunately, if ovarian cancer is detected in its earliest stages, a patient's survival rate is greater than 90 percent. For this reason, developing an early-stage diagnostic test is crucial.

"The fact that so many women are not diagnosed until their disease is advanced confirms the inadequacy of pelvic examinations and standard ultrasound in detecting early-stage ovarian cancer and the dire need for a validated screening method for the detection of early-stage disease," said Dr David Fishman, from the New York University School of Medicine.

To solve this problem, researchers have developed blood tests capable of identifying hundreds of new proteins that may serve as biomarkers for ovarian cancer. To help supplement these tests, which are not 100 percent sensitive, researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Vanderbilt University Medical Center have created an inexpensive, noninvasive medical imaging technique called contrast-enhanced ultrasound, which can help confirm or refute the biomarkers' ability to detect early-stage ovarian cancer.

"Separately, proteomics and ultrasound are of limited value as early-detection tools," said the study's co-author Arthur Fleischer. "However in combination, we will likely be able to shift from an era of diagnosing advanced stage ovarian cancer to that of early-stage disease and, most important, save the lives of many women," he added.

Meanwhile, scientists recently discovered that a drug named Sprycel, which has been approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for patients with chronic myeloid leukemia, may also inhibit the growth and invasiveness of ovarian cancer cells.

In a study of the drug, researchers with UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center tested Sprycel against 34 ovarian cancer cell lines. They found that cancer cells with activated Src pathways responded positively to the medication.

"I think Sprycel could be a potential additional drug for treating patients with Src dependent ovarian cancer," said study author Gottfried Konecny. "It is important to remember that this work is only on cancer cell lines, but it is significant enough that it should be used to justify clinical trials to confirm that women with this type of ovarian cancer could benefit."

The next step for researchers is to test the drug in a clinical trial on women with ovarian cancer.

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