Ovarian cancer screening’s shortcomings

By • Published: July 16th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Current ovarian cancer screening methods need a boost if they are to help reduce cancer deaths.

While screening catches certain ovarian cancers early, these tend to be relatively mild. More aggressive ones often aren’t discovered until they are at advanced stages.

The findings, from a Duke University study, highlight the need for ways to detect virulent tumors sooner.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth-leading cause of cancer deaths in women… accounting for more than fifteen-thousand U-S deaths in 2008, according to the American Cancer Society.

Most ovarian cancers spread widely in the abdomen before they are diagnosed. A subtype described as “serous” [SEER-us] is the deadliest, and makes up most cases.

The researchers examined gene expression patterns using about a hundred frozen tissue samples from women at advanced, borderline and early stages of cancer. A technique called microarray analysis helped reveal the relationship between cancer characteristics… such as whether a cancer is invasive or has low malignancy… and underlying biological changes in the body. It helped allow identification of gene expression patterns associated with long-term survival.

Cancers detected early by current methods were found to have marked biological differences from the ones discovered late: The ones caught early tend to be slower-growing and less likely to spread.

The researchers conclude that ovarian cancers now caught early don’t represent the full spectrum of disease. Most ovarian cancers have an underlying biology that is more lethal, and less likely to be detected early.