Breakthrough cancer blood test developed in Australia

A blood test developed by a Melbourne research facility could streamline cancer diagnosis for thousands of people and replace the need for invasive surgical tests.

The test developed by the Hudson Institute of Medical Research can tell doctors whether a mass detected on a woman’s ovaries is a malignant tumour or a relatively benign cyst, before any surgery to remove and test it.

Currently, the only way to glean this information is to examine the mass after it has been surgically removed. But the act of removing the mass effectively destroys any chance the woman has to conceive and triggers early menopause symptoms – even if the mass turns out to be benign.

To make matters worse, around 90 per cent of all women who undergo this surgical procedure turn out to not have cancer.

Each year, around 1815 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, with nine out of 10 incidences of the disease occurring in women over the age of 40. Like most cancers, the risk of ovarian cancer increases with age.

The blood test looks for a unique ovarian cancer biomarker called CXCL10, which was discovered by the Hudson Institute’s Dr Andrew Stephens.

Dr Stephens told the Herald Sun that CXCL10 is produced in large quantities by ovarian cancers, especially in the early stages. Crucially, the biomarker is not produced by benign ovarian cysts.

“One of the biggest problems, apart from our ability to detect ovarian cancer, is distinguishing what is a cancer and what is a non-malignant condition such as an ovarian cyst,” he said.

“About nine out of 10 times the removed mass will be benign, a cyst or similar. The consequence is instant menopause for pre-menopausal women, which also comes with increased health risks such as cardiac disease, stroke and osteoporosis.”

Dr Stephens adds that the flipside of current surgical testing methods was that patients who do end up with a cancer diagnosis will have wasted time seeing the wrong type of surgeon.

“Less than half the patients with ovarian cancer worldwide are seen by the right kind of surgeon because there is no way to make a diagnosis before they go to surgery,” he said

“What this test is going to do is tell doctors what is most likely benign or most likely malignant.”

Dr Stephens says the test is entering clinical trials in the next few months and he expects it to be available for public use within two years.

Have you or a loved one had a brush with ovarian cancer? Do you regard this test as a major breakthrough? Let us know your views in the comments section below.

Also read: Finding a cure for cancer, one cell at a time

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