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Fall 2006

Blood Test One Day May Detect Early Ovarian Cancer

The day may not be far off when a simple blood test will help physicians diagnose ovarian cancer much earlier than is possible now. The test, based on work by UCLA cancer researchers, could join the mammogram, colonoscopy and pap smear in the early-diagnosis arsenal and save thousands of lives now lost every year to the cancer known as the "silent killer" because it's often discovered in the most advanced stages. The blood test, in fact, can detect ovarian cancer even when there are no physical signs of disease-when ovaries appear normal and CA 125, a biomarker for ovarian cancer, is normal, says Robin Farias-Eisner, M.D., chief of gynecological oncology at UCLA. "That's the patient we're interested in identifying, the one with no obvious signs of cancer," he says. "This could allow us to find ovarian cancers much earlier than conventional methods. And if we can find these cancers earlier, we can save lives."

Currently, about 85 to 90 percent of ovarian-cancer cases are discovered in the most advanced stages, with only 10 to 15 percent of cases diagnosed early. In a small study, Dr. Farias-Eisner and his team were able to diagnose early-stage ovarian cancer with 100 percent accuracy using a panel of four biomarkers that create a protein signature. In contrast, ovarian cancer is accurately predicted only 67 percent of the time using CA 125 levels. Researchers discovered the biomarker proteins are either up-regulated (present at greater levels than normal), or down-regulated (present at lower levels than normal). If the tell-tale protein signature is present, so is ovarian cancer.

"Once the doctor can see ovarian cancer in the body, it's usually too late," says Srinu Reddy, Ph.D., co-director of the ovarian-cancer biomarker research team. "This test is a simple screening test, like a finger stick for diabetes, and it could change the face of ovarian cancer as we know it." A larger UCLA study is currently underway to confirm study results.

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