Physicians may use proteomics and ultrasound to help identify early-stage ovarian cancer, according to a study published in the American Journal of Roentgenology (2010;194[2]:349-354).

According to background information provided along with the main findings, ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death and more than two-thirds of these patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage. However, the authors explain that if early-stage ovarian cancer is detected, survival is greater than 90%, compared to 30% for advanced-stage disease.

“The fact that so many women are not diagnosed until their disease is advanced confirms the inadequacy of pelvic examinations and standard ultrasound in detecting early-state ovarian cancer and the dire need for a validated screening method for the detection of early-stage disease,” stated study leader David Fishman, MD. “The ability to detect ovarian cancer by a simple blood test has long been the holy grail of screening test. Although a single biomarker blood test would be ideal and simple, it is not possible at present.”

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In the study, researchers were able to identify that when combined with proteomic analyses of blood samples, noninvasive contract-enhanced ultrasound imaging can help clinicians accurately detect early-stage ovarian cancer.

“This new discovery sheds light on the possibility that highly discriminatory proteins may be used for the detection of ovarian cancer. However it is necessary to verify any information found by proteomic analysis with an imaging technique,” Dr Fishman noted.

In addition, the potential for contrast agents to significantly improve the diagnostic ability of ultrasound to identify the early microvascular changes that are known to be linked to early-stage ovarian cancer was revealed.

“Separately, protemoics and ultrasound are of limited value as early-detection tools,” stated Arthur Fleischer, MD, co-author of the study. “However in combination, we will likely be able to shift from an era of diagnosing advanced stage ovarian cancer to that of early-stage disease and, most important, save the lives of many women.”