Study of women with ovarian cancer suggests potential screening tool

07/01/04

Goal is simple blood test

Tampa, FL (July 1, 2004) - A study of hundreds of women from four hospitals showing that lysophospholipids are present in high levels in women with ovarian cancer but low in healthy women - a major finding - could lead to a simple blood test for ovarian cancer. This is a welcome development because lack of an effective screening test for ovarian cancer creates high mortality rates.

"This finding could be incredibly important in our fight against ovarian cancer," says Rebecca Sutphen, M.D., of H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, principal author of the three-year study funded by the American Cancer Society whose results are published in the July 7 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

"Two thirds of the patients are diagnosed when the cancer is already advanced - Stage 3 or 4. At that point, the cure rate is only in the range of 25 percent. The problem has always been that we have no early detection strategy," she explains.

"Almost all healthy women have low levels" of lysophospholipids while the vast majority of ovarian cancer patients "have high levels of these substances."

The lysophospholipids were first identified as a potential biomarker by Yan Xu of the Cleveland Clinic, also an author of the current study titled "Lysophospholipids Are Potential Biomarkers of Ovarian Cancer." According to Sutphen, the Moffitt collaboration, which included the University of South Florida Health Sciences Center, is the first study to confirm Xu's hunch. The results were possible because collection and transport of blood samples (in contrast to earlier studies) employed exacting standards for delivery and processing prior to liquid chromatography/mass spectroscopy assay.

In 93 percent of the cases, the blood test was an accurate predictor of whether the woman had ovarian cancer. Less than four percent of the 117 women studied could be characterized as "false positives." But before the blood test is used as a mass screening tool, researchers should "find a combination of markers to get the accuracy rate up to 100 percent," Sutphen says.

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