Early progression and detection of ovarian cancer

In developed countries, ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic malignancies in women. The five-year survival rate is only 35 to 40 per cent, a rate that hasn’t changed significantly in 25 years. The poor prognosis is due to the lack of a reliable test for early detection and the inability to identify early symptoms of the disease, which means the majority of ovarian tumours are diagnosed at an advanced stage. During progression to malignancy, normal ovarian surface epithelial cells, which give rise to the majority of epithelial ovarian cancers, acquire more complex and highly differentiated characteristics that most often resemble epithelial cells in the fallopian tube and uterus. This change may provide an advantage for growing cancer cells. Michelle Woo is screening ovarian tumour tissues for markers known to be present in the fallopian tube and uterus. She has recently discovered a protein in ovarian tumours that may be an early indicator of ovarian cancer. Another approach she is using to examine early changes in ovarian tumour progression involves the use of a unique three-dimensional culture system to mimic the development of ovarian tumours in women. Michelle hopes this research will identify new predictive markers that can be used for early screening and prevention of ovarian cancer.