New research is being conducted to develop new technologies to detect ovarian cancer. Keep reading or follow the original story here to learn more about the struggles and developments involved in modern cancer diagnoses.
Fighting what you can’t see is nearly impossible. Detecting something that is practically invisible continue to be one of the greatest challenges facing cancer treatment. A large variety of cancers remain undetected until they reach late stages. This makes them difficult to treat and increases risks for patients. The early detection techniques that do exist often cut the other way. They detect too many false positives and can lead to dangerous surgeries.
Breast cancer provides a chilling example of this dilemma.
A recent study discovered that the rate of contralateral prophylactic masectomy (surgical removal of both breasts) increased massively between 2002 and 2012. The number of procedures at least tripled. The reported findings are especially shocking considering that only one in three of the women had high-risk factors for breast cancer. Other studies have even shown that removing a healthy breast does not increase chances of survival against breast cancer.
The goal of physicians then must be to detect cancer both accurately and early. It’s a big, but necessary, demand, and a careful balance to find. Without the ability to accurately see how aggressive a tumor is, doctors must make tough decisions about treatment.
Developing a clear picture of a tumor and its characteristics would provide a solution. The technology unfortunately does not currently exist.
Scientist are currently working to develop a method to take accurate, and affordable “snapshots.”
Improving imaging technology would especially benefit early detection of ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer has somewhat slippery early-stage symptoms. It can often go undetected. Women’s ovaries are also small and sit deep within the abdomen making them difficult to examine. Being able to accurately detect ovarian cancer early would greatly improve survival rates for women.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, ovarian cancer is responsible for more fatalities than any other illness affecting the female reproductive organs.
While ovarian cancer is often more dangerous, breast cancer remains the most common cancer in women. Researchers estimated over 252,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer, and over 40,000 deaths as a result of breast cancer in 2017. As a result of poor detection and diagnostic tools, many at-risk patients rely on testing for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. Many young women, as mentioned in the study above, then choose to have risk-reduction surgeries. To read more about ovarian cancer, click here, and to read about BRCA-mutated breast cancer, click here.
The current technology used to accompany x-ray mammograms is ultrasound imaging.
In pursuit of determining whether a tumor is benign or solid the ultrasound often creates an incomplete description. Doctors are then pressed to rely on other imaging technologies and biopsies.
Ultrasounds are also inaccurate once treatment has begun. While ultrasounds are capable of showing the later stages of tumor development, they often fail to detect the preliminary changes which are essential in determining a treatment plan.
Ovarian cancer suffers other detection problems. Symptoms often appear similar to indigestion and can be overlooked. CT, and MRI scans with contrast, alongside FDG-PET scans are often the first methods of detecting ovarian cancer. These test are both expensive and expose the patient to unnecessary amounts of radiation.
A group of engineers at Washington University in St. Louis set out to make a difference in 2016. They wanted to discover if an imaging-based technique would be able to provide a better look at cancers. The desired results would be an increase an information, allowing women to better understand their treatment options at the start.
The process they developed combines an ultrasound with diffused near-infrared light.
Initial results show that after a few weeks, the technique can reveal how a patient’s breast tumor is reacting to specific treatments. The information is determined by the amount of and changes in vascular activity the image shows.
To help detect ovarian cancer, the researchers combined ultrasound with photoacoustic technology. This method creates light which is absorbed by the tumor, causing a temperature change which emits sound waves. The sound waves are then detected an analyzed. Certain patterns can be sued to detect whether the tumor is cancerous. This technique is both less harmful and more cost effective than currently used technologies.
The newly developed techniques have only been tested on a small pilot group so far. The research is still in its early stages but has already produced some promising results. Malignant ovarian tissue has been observed to have high vascular content with a diffused vascular distribution pattern. Benign Ovarian tissue, by contrast, shows a pattern of low vascular content. The hope is that a better understanding of the risks and earlier diagnoses that there will be more and better options available to women. Creating a better picture could be key to creating better treatment.