- Ovarian cancer affects 7,000 and kills more than 4,000 women every year
- Known as the ‘silent killer’ because women are often diagnosed too late
- But simple new test picked up cancer cells in 80 per cent of 42 patients with ovarian cancer - a breakthrough charities said was 'encouraging'
A simple blood test for ovarian cancer which detected tumour cells in four out of five patients could be available next year.
The test was further refined for use in seven patients, detecting all cases of ovarian cancer, according to results from the Medical University of Vienna.
The detection rate is superior to current methods used to monitor women at inherited risk of ovarian cancer, including a blood marker test that has a reliability rate as low as 50 per cent for early stage disease.
'Encouraging': The test picked up cancer cells in 80 per cent of 42 patients with ovarian cancer
Blood samples are analysed in a cell separation device called Parsortix, which picks up cancer cells and also harvests them so they can be analysed to determine the best treatment for the patient.
UK charities said the results were ‘encouraging’ and could eventually lead to earlier diagnosis through screening of high-risk women.
Ovarian cancer is known as the ‘silent killer’ because women are often diagnosed too late for a cure.
Ovarian cancer affects almost 7,000 women a year and kills more than 4,000 women - claiming the lives of over 85 per cent of patients if found at a late stage when it has spread to other parts of the body.
In a new pilot study, presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2015 in Philadelphia, the test picked up cancer cells in 80 per cent of 42 patients with ovarian cancer.
After the test was refined 100 per cent of cancers were picked up in seven ovarian cancer patients.
Experts hope the test will assist women – like Angelina Jolie - at high risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer because of inherited BRCA gene defects.
At present some opt for preventive surgery with removal of the breasts and ovaries to reduce the risk, but close monitoring using a blood test might provide an alternative.
The university researchers presented the case of a high risk patient who carried BRCA gene mutations.
Experts hope the test will assist women – like Angelina Jolie, pictured - at high risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer because of inherited BRCA gene defects
The woman appeared healthy, had no symptoms and conventional diagnosis including ultrasound and the CA-125 blood suggested she was disease-free.
However, like Angelina Jolie, the woman chose to undergo risk-reducing surgery to remove her ovaries.
The blood sample taken prior to surgery that went through the cell separation device indicated the woman was positive for ovarian cancer – a result thought to be a false positive.
However, contrary to the conventional diagnosis, the woman found to have ovarian cancer after the ovaries were examined.
Andrew Newland, founder and chief executive of the specialist technology company ANGLE which makes the device, said: ‘There is a very strong medical need in ovarian cancer for earlier detection and monitoring of patients and we hope our Parsortix system will be able to really make a difference.
A robust detection process could make a world of difference to those women who are faced with difficult decisions on whether or not to have preventative surgery
Katherine Taylor, acting chief executive at Ovarian Cancer Action
‘We are full speed ahead with Medical University Vienna and multiple other cancer centres to expand the patient study to provide enough data support regulatory authorisation for a test for ovarian cancer. We think this is 19 months away.’
Dr Simon Newman, Head of Research for Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “It has been known for many years that tumours shed cancer cells into the blood stream, and this new research combines two cutting edge technologies to identify these markers of cancer.’
He said the case study demonstrated the potential for the technology.
‘However, it’s important to remember that this a single patient, and before this could reach the clinic large time consuming clinical studies would need to be undertaken.
‘Currently there is no proven screening programme for women at a high risk of ovarian cancer, so all women should be aware of the symptoms and go straight to their GP if they have any concerns.
‘Whilst these results are encouraging, much more research and large clinical studies are required to validate these very preliminary findings before this technology could be used on a day to day basis.’
‘Target Ovarian Cancer is jointly funding a study with the Medical Research Council (MRC) here in the UK to develop molecular methods to detect ovarian cancer in blood samples to aid earlier diagnosis.’
Katherine Taylor, acting Chief Executive at research charity Ovarian Cancer Action, said: ‘We welcome this new research. ‘Anything that makes a diagnosis of ovarian cancer easier, earlier and quicker and that gets women tailored treatment sooner is very much needed – particularly for those women who have a BRCA1/2 gene mutation and so are at much greater risk.
‘A robust detection process could make a world of difference to those women who are faced with difficult decisions on whether or not to have preventative surgery.’