New Screening Method for Ovarian Cancer

Thanks to BC researchers, there’s a promising new breakthrough in the ?fight against ovarian cancer?

Credit: Flickr / nathangibbs

Thanks to BC researchers, it’ll be easier to detect and prevent ovarian cancer

BC researchers have found that the most deadly form of ovarian cancer does not start in the ovaries at all, but rather originates in the fallopian tubes

It’s a discovery that has dramatic implications.

Researchers at the Ovarian Cancer Research Program first made the discovery while investigating the genetic causes of ovarian cancer. Currently, women with genetic mutations in the BRCA1 and 2 genes (associated with breast cancer) are also at high risk of developing ovarian cancer. Hence, many proactively have their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed.

While investigating this tissue, early precancerous changes were detected not in the ovary, but in the fallopian tubes. Surprisingly, further study found this was also true for women without the genetic mutation. The most deadly form of ovarian cancer (high-grade serious tumours) actually originated in the tubes, not the ovary.

Preventative Action Against Ovarian Cancer

That’s why gynecologic oncologists with Vancouver General Hospital and the BC Cancer Agency have begun an important campaign that they say has the potential to reduce the death rate from ovarian cancer by 30 per cent. They want patients and B.C. gynecologists to know that lives can be saved by simply removing the fallopian tubes during routine hysterectomy or tubal ligation operations, which normally leave the tubes in place.

Ovarian cancer is often deadly because it is detected too late, and currently there is no effective screening method for early detection. The new finding has given researchers a whole new avenue to explore when it comes to screening — and it could pay off very soon.

Screening for Ovarian Cancer

The researchers are exploring the use of fluorescent light (which is already being used to detect lung and skin cancers) to locate abnormalities in the fallopian tube. Once these abnormalities are detected, the next step is to develop a specific optical imaging tool for use in a clinic or doctor’s office, allowing for early diagnosis and treatment — and the best prognosis.

The screening could also help researchers identify DNA or proteins associated with cancer in the fallopian tube, and those markers could then be used to develop a swab screening test, similar to a pap smear. By next year, researchers hope to have an optical device ready for clinical trial.

In the meantime, the best defense against ovarian cancer is to know your body. “The best we can say is to listen to your body, and persistent symptoms — bloating, feeling full earlier, change in your bowel or bladder habits — should be followed up with your physician [with] yearly pelvic exams. We don’t advocate routine blood screening, we don’t advocate routine ultrasounds,” says gynecologic oncologist and BC Cancer Agency researcher Dr. Dianne Miller.

And when you see your doctor, ask about ovarian cancer, since many physicians may not automatically consider the disease as a possible diagnosis.

Your Health with Dr. Rhonda Low airs weekdays during CTV News at Five and CTV News at Six.

Originally published in TV Week. For daily updates, subscribe to the free TV Week e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.