Page last updated at 07:01 GMT, Tuesday, 10 May 2005 08:01 UK

Test to spot early ovarian cancer

Image of an egg
Ovarian cancer is a common form of the disease

A new blood test may save lives by detecting ovarian cancer at an early stage when treatment is most likely to be successful.

The test, developed by Yale School of Medicine, can pick up the disease before symptoms develop.

Ovarian cancer has been called the "silent killer" because by the time symptoms become apparent it is often difficult to treat.

Details are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Early diagnosis can help prolong or save lives, but clinicians currently have no sensitive screening method because the disease shows few symptoms
Dr Gil Mor

However, the test will require refinement before it is widely used, as, at this stage, it is only 95% accurate.

Just under 7,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in the UK.

A large proportion - almost 4,700 - will die of the disease.

The new test relies on detecting four key proteins - leptin, prolactin, osteopontin, and insulin-like growth factor II - associated with the disease.

Looking for raised levels of these proteins led to ovarian cancer being identified with 95% accuracy in a test group of more than 200 women.

Single proteins

Each of the proteins had previously been suggested as a possible cancer biomarker.

But the Yale researchers found that looking for each protein in isolation could not be relied upon to detect cancer.

Lead researcher Dr Gil Mor said the new test had the potential to be of great use.

He said: "Early diagnosis can help prolong or save lives, but clinicians currently have no sensitive screening method because the disease shows few symptoms."

However, the researchers accept their test needs further work, as even a 5% failure rate could potentially lead to large numbers of women being misdiagnosed.

Dr James Mackay, a consultant clinical genetic oncologist with Cancer Research UK, said: "This is an interesting research finding.

"The next stage in investigating this would be to use these markers in a prospective study either of high-risk women or a randomised study of women at normal risk."



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