New Falloposcope Device Used in Pilot Human Trial to Detect Ovarian Cancer Earlier

According to a recent article, researchers have conducted a pilot human trial to test out a falloposcope which captures images of the fallopian tubes in patients, which will hopefully enable doctors to detect ovarian cancer earlier.

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that forms in a the ovary. An ovary is one of two almond-shaped organs found on each side of the uterus that store eggs and produces the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Depending on the type and stage, malignant cells are found inside, near, or on the outer layer of the ovaries. Common areas where the cancer may spread from the ovary include the abdomen lining, bowel and bladder lining, lymph nodes, lungs, and liver. There are four types of ovarian cancers:

  1. Epithelial tumors, which refer to the thin layer of tissue that covers the ovaries and account for 90% of ovarian cancer cases
  2. Germ cell carcinoma tumors, in which the cancer begins in the cells that form the eggs and account for 5% of ovarian cancer diagnoses
  3. Stromal carcinoma tumors, in which the cancer develops in the connective tissue cells that hold the ovary together and produce estrogen and progesterone and account for 5% of ovarian cancer diagnoses
  4. Small cell carcinoma of the ovary (SCCO), which is a rare, highly malignant tumor that accounts for 0.1% of ovarian cancer diagnoses

The staging of ovarian cancers is the following:

  • Stage I: Cancer is found in one or both ovaries
  • Stage II: Cancer has spread to the pelvis
  • Stage III: Cancer has spread to the abdomen
  • Stage IV: Cancer has spread to other parts of the body


The frequency and/or number of symptoms are key factors in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and symptoms become more noticeable as the cancer progresses. Common symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

Symptoms of a cancer within the stromal carcinoma group include:

  • Abnormal uterine bleeding
  • Endometrial hyperplasia (thickening of the uterus that causes bleeding)
  • Breast tenderness
  • Vaginal secretions
  • Virilizing symptoms due to increased testosterone
  • Increased abdominal girth
  • Enlarging abdominal mass
  • Irregularities in the menstrual cycle

Detecting Ovarian Cancer Earlier

Research has shown that over three-fourths of those with ovarian cancer are not diagnosed until their cancer is in an advanced stage. This is due to a lack of screening and diagnostic tools that are effective in detection. Unfortunately, this means that a little less than half of patients with ovarian cancer are able to survive more than five years after they are diagnosed.

The Falloposcope

The falloposcope was created by Jennifer Barton, director of the University of Arizona BIO5 Institute and Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Engineering. She spent several years developing it so that it would be small enough to fit into the narrow fallopian tubes that connect the uterus to the ovaries. Brown was able to get the diameter of the falloposcope to be only 0.8 millimeters with a very high resolution. Once completed, Dr. John Heusinkveld created a pilot human trial to use the new device in study participants. 

The Pilot Human Trial

Dr. Heusinkveld has decided to test the device on volunteers who already are planning on having their tubes removed for reasons other than cancer. By taking images of fallopian tubes that do not have cancer first, it will establish a baseline range of what healthy fallopian tubes should typically look like. Currently, the device has been used in four volunteers so far.

In total, the research team is aiming to get 20 images of fallopian tubes before they are removed. Then, they will reevaluate the falloposcope in terms of effectiveness and how it could be tweaked to be easier to use.

What This Could Mean for the Future

The falloposcope was created to aid in saving the lives of thousands of people who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year. If the cancer is detected early, doctors are then able to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes before the cancer has the chance to spread.

For those who are at high-risk of getting ovarian cancer, doctors typically will recommend being preemptive by removing the ovaries and fallopian tubes. However, this is method has a number of drawbacks such as needed surgical intervention, surgically induced menopause, and side effects of hot flashes, mood swings, and increased risk of heart and bone disease.

The imaging device still has several steps to go through before it will hit the market. However, it is an incredibly important step that could one day change the screening protocols of ovarian cancer.

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