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STUDY: A new exam may help detect ovarian cancer earlier and improve the chances of survival
JOURNAL: Journal of the National Cancer Institute
AUTHORS: Dr. Le-Ming Shih
ABSTRACT: Each year, more than 23,000 American women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and about 14,000 die from the disease. Yet, while there are mammographies to test for breast cancer and colonoscopies for colon cancer, there is still no standard screening exam for early detection of ovarian cancer. But this might change soon.
COMMENTARY: Doctors aren’t making such grand claims yet with this new test, but they are heralding the new possibilities this test offers in picking up the cancer faster and getting patients treated earlier. This new test is based on digital SNP (single-nucleotide polymorphisms) analysis, which can detect a genetic imbalance in patients. Typically, we inherit DNA from our parents in equal proportions, one copy from our mother and one copy from our father. But cancer patients develop multiple copies of one parent’s genetic markers and less of the other parent’s. It’s this imbalance that doctors can measure in blood samples and analyze with the specialized digital technology.
In this recent study, researchers were able to identify the imbalances in 87 percent of women with early-stage ovarian cancer and 95 percent of women with advanced disease. To make sure the test was specific for ovarian cancer, researchers collected blood samples from 31 cancer-free women. There were no genetic imbalances found in any of the healthy women—more support that this test could differentiate between those with cancer and those who are disease-free.
Dr. Le-Ming Shih, the lead researcher on the study, cautions that while these results are extremely encouraging, they are only preliminary. “This study is important, because it tells us that this technology can detect ovarian cancer early. Now we will do more studies to see if we can combine the test with others to achieve an even higher detection rate.” Shih added that one of the remaining concerns is cost. This new blood test could be expensive, costing as much as $350. The goal would be to get the test closer to $100.
For a long time, health advocates have pushed for more research dollars to find better ways to diagnose ovarian cancer earlier in women. With this digital SNP blood test, their efforts may pay off—and thousands of lives may be saved.