Despite many research advances, ovarian cancer remains lethal in a majority of cases, due to late diagnosis of the disease.
In a new study, Dr. Joshua LaBaer of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, along with Arturo Ramirez and Paul Lampe, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, used a novel method for identifying biomarkers—proteins in blood that can identify ovarian cancer before symptoms appear.
The work, which appeared recently in the journal Molecular and Cellular Proteomics, holds the potential for significant improvements in patient survival rate. The research is part of the Early Detection Research Network program of the National Cancer Institute.
As LaBaer notes, ovarian cancer is an attractive target for biomarker study. “This is a disease for which an early diagnostic test would make an enormous difference in the health of women.” Highly treatable in its early stage, ovarian cancer is typically not identified until it has progressed to stage 3 or beyond. Often, it is detected accidentally, in the course of some other test or procedure, for example, during an oophorectomy. “By the time it’s caught,” LaBaer says, “it has usually speckled the abdomen with advanced tumors.”
At present, only one reliable biomarker for ovarian cancer exists. Known as CA 125, this protein is produced on the surface of cells and released into the bloodstream. Elevated levels of CA 125 are indicative of ovarian cancer, but testing for CA 125 alone is not adequate. Such tests can produce both false positive and false negative results. Further, the level of CA 125 tends to go up in proportion to tumor growth, sometimes providing strong evidence only after the disease has reached its later, terminal stages.
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