Belfast team in ovarian cancer test breakthrough

Disease could be detected much earlier
  • Deborah Condon

Researchers in Belfast have developed a test that may be able to detect the most common type of ovarian cancer up to two years earlier than current tests.

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common female cancer in Ireland, with over 400 women newly diagnosed every year. More than 270 die from the disease annually.

It is commonly referred to as the 'silent killer' because the symptoms can be mistaken for other illnesses, which can lead to late stage diagnosis.

However, researchers at Queen's University Belfast have discovered that the presence of four proteins together, known as a biomarker panel, indicates the likelihood of epithelial ovarian cancer. This is a cancer that forms in the tissue covering the ovary, and most ovarian cancers are epithelial ovarian cancers.

The research involved an analysis of blood samples from 80 people over a seven-year period.

"Firstly, we discovered that the presence of the biomarker panel will enable us to detect endothelial ovarian cancer. We then developed a screening test to detect this biomarker panel, making this a relatively simple diagnostic test.

"The algorithm designed will screen the blood sample and flag any abnormal levels of the proteins associated with the cancer. The screening test identifies ovarian cancer up to two years before the current tests allow," explained the study's lead author, Dr Bobby Graham of Queen's University.

The researchers pointed out that if endothelial ovarian cancer is diagnosed at stage one, there is a 90% chance of five-year survival. If diagnosed at stage three or four, this drops to 22%.

"The results of this study are encouraging, however, we now want to focus on testing it in a wider sample set so that we can use the data to advocate for an ovarian cancer screening programme," Dr Graham said.

According to Dr Rachel Shaw of Cancer Research UK, which helped to fund this research, around half of ovarian cancer cases are picked up at a late stage, making treatment less likely to be successful.

"Developing simple tests like these that could help detect the disease sooner is essential. It's really exciting to see these encouraging results for this type of ovarian cancer," she added.

The team at Queen's worked with researchers from England, Italy and Australia. Details of their findings are published in the British Journal of Cancer.


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