New Hope for Ovarian Cancer Blood Test

By Allison Hydzik

New research from the University of Pittsburgh Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI) and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) gives hope for a blood test to detect a deadly cancer in its earliest stages.

Published online at Clinical Cancer Research, the researchers explain that they found genetic markers that reliably indicate epithelial ovarian cancer, the fifth-leading cause of cancer death in U.S. women that is called a “silent killer” because it often isn’t caught until it reaches advanced stages. 

“Women with stage I epithelial ovarian cancer have a five-year survival of approximately 95 percent, in stark contrast to the considerably lower survival of only 33 percent associated with advanced stage disease,” said senior author Xin Huang, Ph.D., assistant professor at MWRI and UPCI. “Thus, the key to increase the overall survival of women with ovarian cancer lies in early detection and screening.”

Using blood samples from healthy women, women with epithelial ovarian cancer and women with endometriosis (when cells from the lining of the uterus grow in other parts of the body and sometimes a precursor to cancer), the researchers were able to determine which category the samples fell into.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time this type of test has been done to detect endometriosis and epithelial ovarian cancer,” said Dr. Huang. “Although our work is still in the lab and is not yet able to be used in patients, it paves the way for developing a test that doctors could use to aid in the diagnosis of endometriosis and to identify patients at risk for developing epithelial ovarian cancer.”

This work is a collaboration between Dr. Huang, Dr. Anda Vlad, and Dr. Robert Edwards at MWRI and several clinicians at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.

The study results can be found in the Clinical Cancer Research article.