New Ovarian Cancer Test Shows Promise

A new test to detect ovarian cancer, a cancer that is difficult to diagnosis because there are often no symptoms during the early stages, has been shown to have results that are 100-percent accurate in initial trials, according to researchers.

"Because ovarian cancer is a disease of relatively low prevalence, it's essential that tests for it be extremely accurate," said study researcher John McDonald, chief research scientist at the Ovarian Cancer Institute in Atlanta and professor of biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology, in a statement. "We believe we may have developed such a test."

Currently, only about 20 percent of ovarian cancers are found before tumor growth has spread beyond the ovaries, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The test uses a new technique that involves analysis of only a single drop of blood serum, according to scientists at GeorgiaTech. Using that one drop, the test correctly identified women with ovarian cancer in all of the patients tested.

Of the 94 women tested, 44 had either early- or late-stage ovarian cancer, and 50 women did not have ovarian cancer. The test never registered a false positive or a false negative, according to the article published online Aug. 10 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

McDonald's lab group is now conducting a larger trial with 500 patients to test for other types of ovarian cancer, beyond the so-called papillary serous ovarian carcinoma, which was tested in this trial.

"The caveat is, we don't currently have 500 patients with the same type of ovarian cancer, so we're going to look at other types of ovarian cancer," said Facundo Fernandez, associate professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at GeorgiaTech.

"It’s possible that there are also signatures for other cancers, not just ovarian, so we're also going to be using the same approach to look at other types of cancers," Fernandez said.

In addition to having a relatively low prevalence, ovarian cancer often remains symptomless in the early stages, or displays symptoms that mimic those of other, more common conditions, including digestive and bladder disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Therefore, if further testing confirms the ability to accurately detect ovarian cancer by analyzing the metabolic changes in the blood serum of women, doctors will be able detect the disease early and save many lives, the researchers say.

The National Institutes of Health estimates that 21,880 women in the United States will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 13,850 women will die of it in 2010.

Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.