There is an urgent need for better tests for ovarian cancer – sometimes called the 'silent cancer' as it is often diagnosed very late (typically stage 3), making it harder to treat. Of the 7000 women in the UK diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, 57 percent will die from the disease.
Now a team at the University of Hull says it has demonstrated that its newly-discovered biomarker is present in tissue samples at an early stage. The researchers are now carrying out tests to see if it can be detected in the urine of women with cancer.
'We were hoping it would make it easier to diagnose ovarian cancer. A stage three diagnosis can mean survival rates as low as 20 percent, but with early detection that can be increased dramatically to around 90 percent.'
The new biomarker, codenamed 'ovarian cancer protein' (to prevent her scientific rivals knowing its true identity) was detectable in 18 percent of stage one cancer tissues and 36 percent of stage two cancer tissues.
Although these percentages are low, this is still a promising finding, given the failings of other early-stage tests. Current biomarker tests for ovarian cancer also pick up other diseases and infections, resulting in a high false positive rates.
The team is due to publish its results shortly. Ultimately the researchers hope to help develop a urine test for ovarian cancer, which could be available in two to three years.
'Our biggest hope is that we find this protein in urine and it will provide a screening method for patients who go into a Well Woman clinic and have their breasts checked and they will do a test for ovarian cancer, ' said Dr Guinn.
'It will help us confirm a diagnosis of ovarian cancer at the earliest stages. We're on the last step, we're very close.'
Annwen Jones, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: 'Early detection of ovarian cancer is the holy grail. Research into new biomarkers shows extreme promise and we look forward to a future where more women are diagnosed at the earliest possible stage.'