(WOMENSENEWS)–This winter, researchers will be conducting clinical trials of the Correlogic blood test, a non-invasive, pin-prick procedure that is the first to catch ovarian cancer in its initial stages.
The test, which screens for protein patterns that appear at the onset of the disease, is being hailed as a major breakthrough by researchers, doctors and patients alike. Health advocates hope it will help boost ovarian cancersurvival rates, which have not seen significantimprovement in the past 15 years.
“We’re very excited,” says Maxine Stein, the executive director of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. “We hope this will become a significant tool not only for early detection in women at high risk, but also for the general population as well.”
The Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve the test, which must complete clinical trials before the government sanctions its use. But health advocates say the trials should be finished by the spring and that, if the FDA approves the Correlogic test, it will be a boon to doctors and patients alike. Instead of facing a round of detection tests–a pelvic exam, pelvic ultrasound, CA-125 test and possible biopsy–patients will be able to be diagnosed after one pin-prick.
Because bloating, stomach pain and other symptoms of ovarian cancer are often mistaken for indigestion, 75 percent of cases are not caught until the advanced stages, when cancer has spread to the abdomen or lymph nodes and when the chance of surviving five years or more is a grim 15 percent.
Striking one in every 57 women, this disease is less common but far more deadly than breast or cervical cancer. If caught early, however, it boasts a survival rate of 90 percent. As a result of its late detection, ovarian cancer claims the lives of half the 25,000 women diagnosed with it in the United States each year.
Lynne Cohen Diagnosed Too Late
In 1993, Lynne Cohen was a Los Angeles mother with a buoyant, trilling laugh. When she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 48, Cohen’s tumors were detected so late that doctors gave her little chance of survival.
Cohen did her best to cope with her disease, pouring all her energy into raising her three daughters. Wearing a blond wig to hide her loss of hair during chemotherapy, she organized school fundraisers, helped her daughters with their homework and cheered them on at every soccer game.
When Cohen lost her battle with ovarian cancer at age 53, her daughters decided to honor her memory by fighting to prevent other women’s deaths. In 1998, Amy, Erin and Whitney Cohen launched The Lynne Cohen Foundation For Ovarian Cancer Research with a focus on early detection and treatment. Today, thanks to their work and that of other activists, women will soon have an early-detection blood test that can catch this disease when full recovery is still possible.
It’s news that makes Amy Cohen Epstein, president of The Lynne Cohen Foundation, think of her mother. “Even though our mom is no longer with us, she left us with a legacy of love,” she says. “We hope to honor that love by giving other women what our mom ran out of: more time.”
Current Screening Often Misses Early Tumors
Until now, the standard screening measure for ovarian cancer has been the CA-125 test, which measures a protein with the same name that appears in the presence of ovarian tumors. Though effective at detecting recurrences, this test often fails to catch ovarian cancer in its early stages. While the CA-125 test successfully detects ovarian cancer in 24 percent of cases, the Correlogic test is said to do so in 94 percent of cases.
“Our blood test is unique in that it looks for very subtle changes in the blood,” says Peter Levine, president of Correlogic Systems, Inc., based in Bethesda, Md. “It measures small, previously undetectable increases and decreases in a wide range of proteins. This is a new approach and it’s one that we hope will make the death rate drop dramatically.”
In the next few months, before FDA approval, the Correlogic test will be available to high-risk patients at two Lynne Cohen Foundation clinics: The Lynne Cohen Cancer Screening and Prevention Project for High Risk Women at New York University and The Lynne Cohen Preventive Care Clinic for Women’s Cancers at the University of Southern California. Within the next year, pending FDA approval, it could be commercially available nationwide through the Laboratory Corporation of America, Burlington, N.C., and Quest Diagnostics, Inc., in Teterboro, N.H., the country’s two largest providers of diagnostic testing. The test’s advocates hope it will become part of every woman’s routine screening tests during regular medical checkups.
Confusion About the Disease
The Correlogic test offers promise for a disease surrounded by public and even medical ignorance.
In August, a Harris Interactive opinion poll found that 85 percent of Americans believe the well-known and routine Pap smears can detect ovarian cancer. This is false, as Pap tests only screen for cervical cancer.
In October, a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that taking hormone-replacement therapy increases the risk of ovarian cancer. The finding shocked clinicians who had believed the opposite for decades.
Even doctors responsible for treating and screening patients for ovarian cancer can be caught off base, according to Trudy Harris, director of research for The Lynne Cohen Foundation. “I’ve heard of patients telling their doctors they feel bloated, only to have their doctors tell them they need to lose weight,” she said. “I’ve heard of women going in for surgery for irritable bowel syndrome, only to discover they have ovarian cancer all through their abdomens.”
For late-stage patients like these, there is also hope on the horizon: two new treatments now in the third and final round of clinical trials. The first drug is OvaRex, which targets cancer cells remaining after remission and which is being developed by the pharmaceutical company United Therapeutics, based in Silver Spring, Md. The second is Telcyta, which attacks cancer cells while sparing healthy ones and is being manufactured by the Palo Alto-based pharmaceutical concern Telik, Inc.
Molly M. Ginty is a freelance writer based in New York City.
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For more information:
Lynne Cohen Foundation for Ovarian Cancer Research:
Conversations: The International Newsletter
For Those Fighting Ovarian Cancer!:
Genome News Network–
Diagnosing Ovarian Cancer by Proteomics: