Research Nugget #1: Ovarian Cancer

The following nugget is from the online publication “How to recognize the symptoms of ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer has been overlooked for a long, long time – it’s been put into the ‘too difficult’ box,’ says Annwen Jones, chief executive of the target Ovarian cancer charity. “There has been a vicious circle: it’s typically diagnosed at a late stage so we have had poor survival rates and, as a result, there’s been little awareness of the disease and therefore very little funding for research. We desperately need to break that circle.”
The main problem is its symptoms: persistent bloating, abdominal or pelvic pain, urinary and/or bowel problems and difficulty in eating.
Taken on its own, each sign could easily indicate some other medical problem. In fact, 30 per cent of sufferers are misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. It’s only when the symptoms are pieced together that a diagnosis is made easier. For years, ovarian cancer was known as a silent killer, which really frustrates campaigners. “there are clear symptoms,” says Jones. “You just have to know about them.”

Unlike breast cancer, that many are familiar with, only 3% of women in the UK can identify symptoms of ovarian cancer . The symptoms of an ovarian cancer, as described in the nugget above, are often misdiagnosed. One patient notes:

“I thought there was no way it could be cancer – I hadn’t been losing weight, my periods were still regular and I had mistakenly assumed if you had clear smear tests you were fine. It was only later I learned that smear tests will only detect cervical cancer, not ovarian cancer.”

This clearly demonstrates how many women underestimate ovarian cancer. Much of current research is focused on early detection. One promising direction is to focus on so called biomarkers. All diseases have proteins, or concentrations of proteins, specifically linked to them called biomarkers. Identifying biomarkers is a powerful diagnostic tool. Antibodies can be used to test for specific biomarkers because they only bind to specific molecules or groups of molecules. Problems can arise when they bind to groups of similar molecules, leading to false positives and unreliable information.In practice this can be very costly and unreliable method. Jack Andraka delivered a recent breakthrough by finding one particular protein that serves as a biomarker for pancreatic, lung and ovarian cancers and constructing an ingenious testing device for these cancers by utilizing carbon nanotubes, that is extremely cheap, fast, effective and minimally invasive.

One thought on “Research Nugget #1: Ovarian Cancer”

  1. I didn’t listen to the Jack Andraka Ted Talk, but I’d like to hear more about it in your discussion. How could a 16 year old find one biomarker when thousands of paid scientists can’t? (Doesn’t that seem to say something about the medical research industry. Did Andraka just get lucky?) So his test uses carbon nanotubes — You include a Wikipedia link, but as a reader of your post I want more information within your text about how the carbon nanotubes work — because this is an amazing breakthrough, if is does indeed help diagnose these cancers. What has happened with Andraka’s research since the TED talk? Have you Googled to find more on his work?

    Looking at the way technology has impacted diagnoses would be an interesting way to narrow your broad topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *