Early identification and diagnosis of cancers or rare conditions can significantly improve patient outcomes. For example, early ovarian cancer detection contributes to a better prognosis. Yet many women remain undiagnosed until later stages as they are often asymptomatic. The Mayo Clinic—and more specifically, the Clinic’s Center for Individualized Medicine—has made a recent discovery that could allow for early ovarian cancer diagnosis.
Diving into Research
According to an article from Technology Networks, a team of researchers sourced a variety of samples—peritoneal fluid, urine, anal microbiome, and lower/upper respiratory tract tissue—from 30 women with ovarian cancer who were undergoing a hysterectomy. Using high-throughput sequencing, the researchers evaluated the samples, as well as compared them to samples from 34 women undergoing a hysterectomy for non-oncological issues.
After evaluation, the research team found that a specific colonization of pathogenic bacteria and microbes formed in the reproductive tract of women with ovarian cancer. More importantly, the bacteria found—Prevotella, Corynebacterium, Peptoniphilus, and Dialister—have been previously linked to other malignancies. Additionally, the research team found that women with early-stage ovarian cancer had higher levels of these microbes than those in later stages, and that these higher levels were associated with a poorer prognosis.
The findings of the study, published in Scientific Reports, suggest that monitoring or testing for these pathogenic microbes could assist with earlier identification. However, more research is needed: both on how these microbes contribute to ovarian cancer development and whether they could be used to shape treatment.
Ovarian Cancer: What It Is
There are four subtypes of ovarian cancer, a cancer that begins in the ovaries, a female reproductive organ: epithelial tumors, germ cell carcinoma tumors, stromal carcinoma tumors, and small cell carcinoma of the ovary (SCCO). The former is the most common form, while the latter is the rarest. While BRCA gene mutations play a role in 10-20% of ovarian cancer cases, the remainder are idiopathic (without a known cause). Ovarian cancer can spread. In Stages II-III, it spreads to the pelvis and abdomen. In late-stage ovarian cancer, it may also spread to the bowel and bladder lining, abdomen, lymph nodes, liver, or lungs.
Symptoms related to this cancer can include changes in urinary frequency or urgency, abdominal distention, pelvic and back pain, bloating, appetite and weight loss, tender breasts, abnormal bleeding or vaginal secretions, and menstrual irregularities. Treatments vary based on cancer stage but may include radiation, chemotherapy, certain medications, or surgery.