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Ovarian cancers detected early may be less aggressive, questioning effectiveness of screening
Date:3/24/2009

DURHAM, N.C. -- The biology of ovarian cancers discovered at an early stage may render them slower growing and less likely to spread than more aggressive cancers, which typically are discovered in an advanced stage, according to a study led by investigators in the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center. This finding has implications for the question of whether screening for ovarian cancer could save lives.

"Our study showed that the ovarian cancers currently detected at an early stage have gene expression profiles that correlate with favorable outcome, rather than being representative of the entire spectrum of disease aggressiveness," said Andrew Berchuck, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist at Duke and lead investigator on this study. "This highlights the potential challenges of developing a screening test for this disease, because earlier detection of aggressive cases is essential if screening is to reduce ovarian cancer deaths."

The results of this study and the implications for screening as an approach to decreasing mortality parallel the challenges seen in lung cancer and prostate cancer. In those cancers, while screening approaches based on radiological imaging and/or blood markers detect cancers, it remains unclear whether cancer-related deaths are prevented because screening preferentially detects more benign cancers that are much less likely to be fatal, Berchuck said.

"While these results could be seen as discouraging, it must be remembered that this information is an important piece of the ovarian cancer puzzle, and data like these that increase our understanding of the disease hopefully will eventually lead to breakthroughs in prevention, early detection and treatment of this deadly disease," Berchuck said.

Although there is currently no approved ovarian cancer screening test for the general population, the CA125 blood test and transvaginal ultrasound imaging currently are being evaluated in clinical trials.

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Contact: Lauren Shaftel Williams
lauren.shaftel@duke.edu
919-684-4966
Duke University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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