New test can detect 90 per cent of early ovarian cancers

The Australian-made test dramatically improves the detection rate of early ovarian cancer, compared to current methods.

A new cancer test has the potential to detect more than 90% of early ovarian cancers. Current screening methods are only able to detect up to 50% of early-stage ovarian cancers.

The test, developed by Associate Professor Carlos Salomon Gallo, from the University of Queensland, gives hope for the development of an effective nation-wide screening program that can accurately predict the risk of this deadly disease.

“The capacity of our method to identify positive cases suggests it could be an ideal first-line test for population screening,” Dr Salomon Gallo said in a press release.

About Ovarian Cancer
Every year, more than 1500 new cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed in Australia, and more than 1000 of these women will die from this disease. Ovarian cancer currently stands as the 10th most commonly diagnosed cancer and the sixth most common cause of cancer death among females in Australia.

According to the Cancer Council, some common risk factors known to increase the risk of ovarian cancer include:

  • age (risk increases for women over 50)
  • family history of ovarian, breast or bowel cancer
  • changes in the genes BRCA1 or BRCA2
  • being of Ashkenazi Jewish descent
  • early onset of periods (before 12 years) and late menopause
  • women who have not had children or had their first child after the age of 35
  • using oestrogen only hormone replacement therapy or fertility treatment.

Likewise, other factors associated with a reduced risk of this cancer include the use of oral contraceptive pills for several years, having the fallopian tubes tied or removed, as well as having children before the age of 35 and breastfeeding.

About the new test
The new test screens patients for the presence of exosomes. Extra-cellular vesicles involved in cell-cell communication.

“Exosomes essentially act as ‘letters’, travelling long distances via the bloodstream to deliver messages to other organs,” Dr Gallo said. “They have the extraordinary ability to capture a snapshot of what’s going on inside the organs. By measuring these biomarkers we hope to be able to identify if women have early stage ovarian cancer through a simple blood test,” he added.

The test has so far been tested in 500 Australian patients, and the plan is now to evaluate the efficacy of this test on a bigger cohort of patients. With this goal in mind, Dr Gallo will join forces with Professor Usha Menon of University College London, who currently leads research the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening, a program involving 13 UK centres and over 202 000 postmenopausal women.

“We will have access to samples taken between one and five years before the diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and will determine how early our test can identify these women,” Dr Gallo said.