Proteins' Promise: New Test Could Reveal Early Ovarian Cancer

Article excerpt

A test that measures protein concentrations in the blood can signal the presence of ovarian cancer, a new study shows. The finding brings scientists a step closer to a diagnostic tool for catching this stealthy cancer early enough for effective treatment. The researchers caution, however, that they haven't yet perfected the procedure.

There is currently no routine screening for ovarian cancer in the general population, even though more than 22,000 women are diagnosed with the disease each year in the United States. Doctors typically test for ovarian cancer when a woman experiences a combination of symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, and abnormal vaginal bleeding, or if she has a family history of this cancer. Doctors use ultrasound or touch to examine the abdomen and can use a blood sample to look for a high concentration of the protein called CA125, which sometimes indicates ovarian cancer.

Unfortunately, these tests miss many early-stage ovarian cancers, a shortcoming that has tragic consequences. Most women found to have ovarian cancer don't survive 5 years beyond the day of diagnosis, primarily because the cancer has spread unnoticed by the time it's discovered. However, early-stage cancer that's confined to the ovaries is highly treatable.

To devise an early-warning test, David C. Ward of the Nevada Cancer Institute in Las Vegas and his colleagues measured the relative concentrations of 169 proteins in the blood of ovarian cancer patients and healthy women. The amounts of 35 of the proteins varied significantly between the groups.

The researchers chose four of those proteins that are relatively simple to detect as the basis for a new ovarian cancer test. …