According to an article recently published in
The Lancet, preliminary evidence suggests that a protein pattern that can be detected from a small blood sample may have been identified and may one day be an effective screening tool for ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is a common malignancy, with about 25,000 new cases diagnosed in the United States each year. Individuals with mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a high risk of developing ovarian cancer, with about 10% of incident cases of invasive ovarian cancer resulting from mutations in these two genes. Women who carry the BRCA1 mutation have a 40% lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer, whereas women who carry the BRCA2 mutation have a 25% lifetime risk.
The best “treatment” strategy for cancer is to prevent its occurrence or to detect it early when it is most treatable. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is often initially diagnosed when it has already reached a stage where it is incurable. Consequently, ovarian cancer has the highest mortality rate of all gynecologic cancers, which has prompted a great deal of research to identify the causes and risk factors for this disease, with the hopes of creating better screening and prevention strategies.
Currently, one of the only tests available for ovarian cancer detection is a blood test measuring the blood marker CA125. Unfortunately, CA125 alone has a low positive predictive value in stage I ovarian cancer and may be ambiguous in advanced stages.
One experimental area of cancer screening on the horizon is proteomics. Proteomics is the study of the proteins found inside a cell. Many efforts have been made in the field of proteomics to define proteomic patterns or “fingerprints” that are disease specific. As of last year, the National Cancer Institute and the United States Food and Drug Administration began using protein profiling techniques as part of human trials for new cancer treatments.
Researchers recently defined a proteomic pattern specific to ovarian cancer and then conducted a study evaluating the efficacy of this pattern to screen for ovarian cancer. The study included 116 participants comprised of 50 women with ovarian cancer and 66 without ovarian cancer at high-risk of this disease. Blood was drawn and then profiled using a laboratory process called mass spectroscopy as well as computer algorithms to search the blood for the previously defined ovarian cancer specific pattern. All 50 women with ovarian cancer were identified by the blood profile, including 18 stage I cases. Of the 66 women without ovarian cancer, only 3 were false-positively identified.
These results are promising for the future of a patient friendly and effective tool for the screening and early detection of ovarian cancer. Although this new procedure holds promise for the early detection of ovarian cancer, future studies are warranted to further define the efficacy of proteomic profiling.
Proteomic profiling for the screening of ovarian cancer is only available in clinical trials. Individuals interested in participating in a clinical trial evaluating proteomic profile screening for ovarian cancer may want to talk to their doctor about the risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial. Two sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include comprehensive, easy-to-use listing services provided by the National Cancer Institute (
The Lancet, Vol 359, No 9305 pp 572-577, 2002)