Women's Health

Researchers Get Closer to Ovarian Cancer Screening

Researchers Get Closer to Ovarian Cancer Screening

For any type of cancer, recognizing signs and symptoms as early as possible can greatly improve outcomes. This is especially important for more severe cases, such as ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, over 70% of individuals with ovarian cancer are diagnosed at an advanced stage because symptoms fail to present themselves early on. For this reason, early screening and detection of ovarian cancer remains a crucial topic of discussion on tackling the disease and improving survival rates.

While there is currently no FDA-approved standard screening method for ovarian cancer, researchers all around the world are continuously studying and striving to develop new and more accurate screening methods.

The new research

A new study, conducted by researchers from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, could be the answer to screening and detecting ovarian cancer at an early stage. Since the main concern regarding ovarian cancer is that the symptoms it presents - bloating, abdominal pain, and urinary changes - are often missed or do not present themselves until the disease has advanced, the researchers aimed to create a more sensitive and specific screening method that could inform women if they have ovarian cancer before the cancer has a chance to progress. “Seventy percent of patients come to the clinic with stage 3 or stage 4 ovarian cancer and the cure rate for those patients is below 30 percent. But if you get to the clinic when it is stage 1, then the cure rate is over 92 percent,” said Dipanjan Chowdhury, chief of the Division of Radiation and Genomic Stability in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Dana-Farber.

To date, the two most common screening tests for ovarian cancer are ultrasounds and the CA-125 blood test. Both screening tests often led to unnecessary testing, higher false positive rates, and sometimes even more surgeries for women at average risk of the disease. Yet, they do not reduce the number of deaths caused by ovarian cancer.

How this new test would use microRNA

The new blood test could be a breakthrough for the early detection of ovarian cancer. The researchers explained how they uncovered a network of microRNAs, which are tiny, non-coding molecules of genetic material that are associated with risk of ovarian cancer and can only be uncovered through a blood sample. “MicroRNAs are the copyright editors of the genome: Before a gene gets transcribed into a protein, they modify the message, adding proofreading notes to the genome,” said Kevin Elias, lead author of the study. “This project exemplifies the synergy of the two institutes DFCI and BWH and the power of clinicians working closely with lab-based scientists. My lab has been working on miRNAs for a decade and when Kevin came to us with the patient samples, it was a no-brainer to initiate this project,” said Chowdhury.

Read on to learn more about this research breakthrough, and what it means for the future of diagnostic testing for ovarian cancer.