Women's Health

Biomedical Engineering Student Seeks to Understand Early Stages of Ovarian Cancer

Biomedical Engineering Student Seeks to Improve Ovarian Cancer Statistics

Biomedical Engineering Student Seeks to Understand Early Stages of Ovarian Cancer

This year alone, it is estimated that well over 22,000 American women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and about 14,000 will die from it. A woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer throughout the course of her life is about 1 in 78. It mostly develops in older women, as a majority of the women who are diagnosed with this type of cancer are 63 years old or older.

Ovarian cancer is ranked 5th in the deadliest types of cancers among women. What used to be referred to as the 'silent killer' has recently gained awareness in early symptoms, so more and more women know what to look out for. Still, this cancer is usually diagnosed in later stages, which makes treatment challenging. In fact, only 20-30% of women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer at a late stage live 5 years past their initial diagnosis. The 5-year survival rate refers to the percentage of women who live at least 5 years past their initial diagnosis.

Stage I and II survival rate is near 90%

For all types of ovarian cancer, the 5-year survival rate stands at 45%. However, if ovarian cancer is diagnosed at stage I or II, before it has the chance to spread outside of the ovary, the 5-year survival rate is around 90%. The rule specifies the lower the stage number, the lower the chance of the cancer spreading to other areas in the body. Yet, only around 15% of all ovarian cancers are diagnosed at an early stage because there are currently no reliable screening methods. To diagnose the stage of the cancer, tissue samples are taken from different areas within the pelvis and abdomen and then they are taken into the laboratory to be examined.

Survival statistics are typically utilized by healthcare professionals as a standard approach to monitoring an individual’s prognosis. While some women with ovarian cancer might wish to understand survival rates for women in similar situations, others might not want to know them at all. Survival statistics are based on previous clinical outcomes from cases of women who have had the cancer; however, these outcomes cannot foresee what will happen with each woman’s outlook. Other factors, such as stage of the cancer, the treatment received and overall health, greatly contribute to each individual case.

This student seeks to change statistics

Over the last two decades, the percentage of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer has been gradually declining. What’s more, improvements in treatment have resulted in more satisfactory outcomes for women diagnosed with the cancer. To this day, researchers are continuously striving to identify strategies to diagnosing ovarian cancer at an early stage. One individual in particular, Will Flanigan, a biomedical engineering student at the University of Wisconsin, has turned his focus to improving ovarian cancer survival statistics.

Photo: Flanigan performs a test at his laboratory bench (The Badger Herald)