A better test for ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer, because it begins with few obvious symptoms, has long been known as the "silent killer." But it may be silent no longer, thanks to a new and highly accurate blood test developed by Gil Mor, an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the School of Medicine, and his colleagues.

Mor's test measures six key proteins. Each is normally present in the body, but even in the earliest stages of tumor growth, their quantities change in distinctive ways. In the February 15 Clinical Cancer Research, Mor described test results from 156 women with ovarian cancer and 362 healthy women: the tumor detection rate exceeded 99 percent, with very few false positives. "This is very promising," says Robert A. Smith, director of cancer screening for the American Cancer Society, though he cautions that further study is needed.

Perhaps most important, the test was able to find about 90 percent of early-stage cancers, says Mor. "Until now, there hasn't been a test to detect the disease early, when a cure is often possible." Every year, 20,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and 15,000 die of it.

One more round of testing has begun, and Mor hopes the test will be generally available later this year. (It is already available at Yale.) He expects it will be offered first to women 55 and older, especially those with a family history of the disease or a genetic mutation that increases their risk. It may later become routine for women over 40, Mor says, "like the prostate cancer blood test for men." 

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