"The changes we have seen in cells have been identical, no matter which organ we are studying," Backman said. "We have stumbled upon a universal cell physiology that can help us detect difficult cancers early. If the changes are so universal, they must be very important."
Ovarian cancer, which ranks fifth in cancer fatalities among American women, usually goes undetected until it has spread elsewhere. The cancer is difficult to treat at this late stage and often is fatal.
"This intriguing finding may represent a breakthrough that would allow personalization of screening strategies for ovarian cancer via a minimally intrusive test that could be coupled to the Pap smear," Roy said.
At the time of the ovarian cancer study, Roy was director of gastroenterology research at NorthShore and worked with Jean A. Hurteau, M.D., a gynecological oncologist at NorthShore. (Hurteau is an author of the paper.) Roy is now chief of the section of gastroenterology at Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center.
The study included a total of 26 individuals. For cells taken from the endometrium (part of the uterus), there were 26 patients (11 with ovarian cancer and 15 controls); for cells taken from the endocervix, there were 23 patients (10 with ovarian cancer and 13 controls). The small size of the study reflects the difficulty in recruiting ovarian cancer patients.
Cells were placed on slides and then examined using PWS. The results showed a significant increase in the disorder of the nanoarchitecture of epithelial cells obtained from cancer patients compared to controls for both the endometrium and endocervix studies.
The cells for the ovarian cancer study were taken from t
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