Routine screening for women is limited because, unlike mammograms for breast cancer, there are no sufficiently accurate screening tests currently available. The pelvic examination can only occasionally detect ovarian cancer, generally when the disease is already in advanced stages. However, the combination of a thorough pelvic exam, transvaginal ultrasound and a blood test for the tumor marker CA125 should be offered to women who are at high risk of ovarian cancer.
Promising research conducted at the University of South Florida and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute on a specific protein in the urine may lead to a more sensitive screening test in the future for women with ovarian cancer.
In this pilot study, urinary samples from 18 normal, healthy volunteers, 38 women with benign gynecologic disease and 35 patients in various stages of ovarian cancer were tested for levels of the Bcl-2 protein. The levels of Bcl-2 found in patients with ovarian cancer were ten times higher than that of the healthy volunteers or women with benign disease. Elevated Bcl-2 levels were associated with 92% of ovarian cancers, while blood levels from the CA125 only identified 68% of ovarian cancer patients.
Patricia Kruk, the study's principal investigator, presented the preliminary findings April 3 at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Washington, D.C.
"I am cautiously optimistic", says Kruk, associate professor of pathology, cell biology and interdisciplinary oncology at USF Health. "We have a long way to go but this is definitely a start."
Other USF and Moffitt doctors participating in the study include Yira Bermudez, Beatriz Saunders, George Wilbanks and Santo Nicosia as well as members of the Gynecologic Oncology and Cancer Control programs. The team holds a provisional patent for their work with Bcl-2.
The researchers are in the process of requesting funding to conduct clinical trials, thus expanding the sample size and working toward providing a safe, non-invasive, economical detection method for ovarian cancer.
In 2001, the National Cancer Institute awarded Moffitt the status of a Comprehensive Cancer Center in recognition of its excellence in research and contributions to clinical trials, prevention and cancer control. Additionally, Moffitt is a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, a prestigious alliance of the country's leading cancer centers, and is listed in U.S. News & World Report as one of the top cancer hospitals in America. Moffitt's sole mission is to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer.
USF Health is the University of South Florida's enterprise of researchers, teachers and clinicians dedicated to improving the full continuum of health. Its core is the colleges of Public Health, Nursing and Medicine, including a School of Physical Therapy, as well as the healthcare delivered by its 450 physicians and more than 100 nurse practitioners. In partnership with its affiliated hospitals, USF Health's research funding last year was $134 million -- more than half of which came from federal sources. Last year, USF health clinicians cared for more than 31,000 patients and oversaw 396,000 outpatient visits.