FEB 19, 2020 8:01 AM PST

Forget complicated scans - ovarian cancer can be detected in the blood

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

Results from clinical trials performed in Melbourne, Australia have revealed the diagnostic potential of a new test for ovarian cancer. Instead of using conventional techniques like ultrasonography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or tissue biopsies, this recently established method identifies the presence of malignancy by measuring the levels of specific inflammatory biosignatures in the bloodstream.

Early detection has been linked to better patient outcomes. Unfortunately, however, ovarian cancer rarely shows any symptoms until the advanced stages. Consequently, the mortality rates of ovarian cancer are staggering, ranking fourth in all cancers that cause death in women. Over half of all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer die within five years. Genetics, age, and being overweight have been linked to an elevated risk of developing this cancer.

Chief investigator of the study, Professor Magdalena Plebanski from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) recently described this simple blood test for ovarian cancer in Scientific Reports.

The test measures levels of a pro-inflammatory immune marker, interleukin 6 (IL-6), along with other cancer biomarkers in blood samples taken from patients. Upon validation in patient cohorts, the technique designed by Plebanksi and colleagues was found to have the same diagnostic accuracy as current gold standards: MRI and ultrasound imaging.

"This is especially important for women in remote or disadvantaged communities, where under-resourced hospitals may not have access to complex and expensive equipment like ultrasound machines or MRI scanners. It also means patients with benign cysts identified through imaging could potentially be spared unnecessary surgeries,” said Plebanski.

Previous studies have shown that IL-6 levels are significantly raised in patients with advanced or metastatic cancer. In pancreatic cancer patients, for example, higher IL-6 in circulation correlated strongly with poorer survival outcomes.

Plebanski and her fellow researchers are hopeful that the progress made towards a new generation of cancer diagnostics will enable ovarian cancer sufferers to be diagnosed much earlier.

"Developing tests that are simpler and more practical may help get more women to hospital for treatment more effectively, with the hope that survival rates will improve."


Sources: Technology Networks, Scientific Reports.

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
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