I realized a long time ago that there’s a downside to someone like me – a complete hypochondriac – covering the cancer beat at a major medical school. Kind of like how I decided to be a journalist without considering how I HATE talking to strangers on the phone. At any rate, this photo terrifies me. The onion represents the size of a class of ovarian cancer called a serous (not serious, although it is) tumor at the time of diagnosis and the size detectable by current screening tests. The peppercorn is the size of that type of tumor that we’d have to be able to detect in order to make just a 50 percent dent in the mortality rate. Thing is, we can’t do it. At least not yet.
Biochemist Patrick Brown, MD, PhD – who took the picture and did this research – has a different response. He finds the photo encouraging. Although “We are miles away from detecting the most deadly ovarian tumors at this early stage,” he said, “now we have a chance of actually designing an effective test that will allow us to treat them before they become deadly.” I’d say that’s more of a glass-half-full approach than I’m used to, but I’m really glad he feels that way.
Brown collaborated with Chana Palmer, PhD, of the Canary Foundation to conduct the research, which was just published in the open access journal Public Library of Science Medicine You can read our news release about the research here.
To Brown, having a clear target points the way to diagnostic techniques that might have a chance of working – such as imaging studies or analyzing vaginal or uterine fluid for tumor markers. “I was much more disheartened before we did this study,” said Brown, “when I realized we had no idea what we were looking for.”