Cancer of the ovaries is the fifth most common cancer for women in the UK, with about 7100 new cases each year but it is difficult to diagnose because it grows virtually unseen into the abdominal cavity.
Now a new study has found that levels of a protein called SOX2 are much higher in the fallopian tubes of women with ovarian cancer and those genetically predisposed to the disease.
The breakthrough could lead to early screening for the disease in a similar way to a cervical smear test.
Professor Ahmed Ahmed, from the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford University, said: ‘Ovarian cancer can be undetectable for up to four years and only a third of people with the cancer get an early diagnosis.
“A test for SOX2 could not only help detect cancers early but in some cases would enable us to detect a tumour before it becomes cancerous.
“Early treatment hugely improves the odds for patients, so early detection is essential. However, there is still a lot of work to be done because detecting SOX2 in the fallopian tubes is not an easy task.
“We are hoping that a test that is based on this discovery would detect the tumour at the pre-cancer state. A bit similar to what the cervical smear test does.”
The team identified an enzyme that enables ovarian cancer to spread and are hoping that it could be targeted with drugs.
Katherine Taylor, Chief Executive at research charity Ovarian Cancer Action, one of the study’s funders, said: “We need to save the lives of more women by making ovarian cancer treatment more effective.
“There has been little progress in ovarian cancer treatment in the past 30 years so these findings are promising, and have provided two areas of focus for scientists working on ovarian cancer.
“Early detection and effective treatment are vital, and these discoveries will hopefully being us closer to both.”
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