JudyIt’s estimated that in 2016, more than 22,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. While the prevalence of this disease is relatively low, most diagnoses are made in the later stages, when women face a lower chance of survival.

Early detection has become a primary focus in ovarian cancer research. And the progress in research and testing means there are more long-term survivors than ever before.

Knowledge of the disease’s symptoms and the importance of care by a gynecologic oncologist can have a positive impact. As new advances are made, it’s more important than ever for women to be educated about their overall health (and specifically about new methods for detecting, preventing, and treating ovarian cancer).

Though a major research breakthrough may be elusive at the moment, women still have reasons to be hopeful.

Screenings and Preventive Measures

A good way to screen for ovarian cancer currently doesn’t exist, but women can take certain preventive measures. Birth control pills have been shown to reduce lifetime risk of ovarian cancer by 50 percent if taken for more than five years. Women also can consider getting the distal portion of their fallopian tubes removed when they are getting their tubes tied, or they can get their tubes removed altogether.

It’s also important for women to know about their families’ histories of ovarian cancer. Some women should consider genetic testing to see whether they have mutations that could indicate a higher risk for the disease. Women with these mutations should talk with their doctors about precautionary removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes when they’re through with having children.

Promise and Hope in the Field of Research

While many types of tests and screenings are still being assessed for effectiveness, some advances are giving people hope that doctors soon will be able to detect ovarian cancer earlier and treat it more effectively. Here is a rundown on four methods:

1. ROCA testing: The ROCA Test was studied in a trial in the U.K. involving 200,000 women over 15 years. Although the trial didn’t show an improvement in survival, women are still being observed for any hint that the survival rate has improved. The test is being sold in the U.K. based on initial results.

The ROCA Test uses an algorithm to create a score for a woman based on her age, high-risk status, and cancer antigen levels in her blood. This score shows how likely the woman is to get ovarian cancer.

However, baseline levels of CA-125 profiles can vary significantly. Women with changing levels of CA-125 might have ovarian cancer, but it won’t register based on CA-125 blood tests alone.

2. Multi-biomarker tests: Multi-biomarker tests are used to identify ovarian cancers among pelvic masses. To effectively sort the cancerous masses (22,000 or so) from among the 200,000-plus pelvic masses that are removed surgically each year in the U.S., these tests look for the presence of certain substances that might indicate the disease. Many biomarker tests currently focus on CA-125, and researchers have been looking for other indicators that could reveal the presence of ovarian cancer.

When these tests suggest that a mass is likely to be cancerous, the woman should be referred to a gynecologic oncologist to get it removed; this treatment plan is associated with an improved survival rate.

3. PARP inhibitors: Poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase, or PARP, is a family of enzymes that help repair DNA, but sometimes these enzymes aid cancer cells in repairing themselves. PARP inhibitors could keep tumor cells from fixing themselves, especially after chemotherapy, and this approach would also be safer for healthy cells.

The first drug of this kind was approved by the FDA in 2014 for women who weren’t responding well to other cancer treatments, and these inhibitors are finally in frontline trials. They currently are being studied to see how they will affect women with BRCA (BReast CAncer susceptibility) gene mutations that considerably increase the risk of ovarian and breast cancer.

4. PDI inhibitors: Protein Disulfide Isomerase (PDI) is a protein highly expressed in ovarian cancer. Researchers suspect that PDI is essential to the health and spread of ovarian cancer cells. PDI inhibitors — currently being used for melanoma and lung cancer treatments — are now being utilized somewhat in ovarian cancer. But it might be a few years before true results are known. It is hoped the PDI inhibitors will be able to target these cells and suppress tumor growth without damaging normal tissue.

Many of these advances are still not completely conclusive, but investigators are continuing to study the effects. But we should be encouraged by these four different detection and treatment methods that have the potential to drastically impact women with ovarian cancer. Those who are at a high risk might be able to look forward to earlier detection and better treatment.


Dr. Judy Wolf is the chief medical officer at Vermillion, Inc. She received her medical degree from the Northeast Ohio Medical University College of Medicine, and her clinical and research interests are in gynecologic cancers — specifically ovarian cancer.

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One Response to “4 Encouraging Advances in Ovarian Cancer Research”

  1. Sheryl Karolinski Says:

    What are signs of ovarian cancer

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