New Genetic Test Could Aid Ovarian Cancer Care


Scientists are always looking into new ways to advance treatments and improve patient outcomes, especially in disease states with high mortality rates. Currently, ovarian cancer is associated with a high risk of death; it is the fifth most deadly cancer in women, and the deadliest gynecological cancer. Its prevalence has only slightly declined over time, leading researchers to question what interventions could be used to better help patients.

According to an article in Geo News, a research team from the University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Hospital developed a genetic test to aid in this mission. The test is designed to identify patients who can (and cannot) benefit from PARP inhibitor treatment. Learn more about PARP inhibitors here

To develop the test, the research team utilized machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence (AI). The test was trained to detect tumors that contain gene abnormalities associated with ovarian cancer. For example, an estimated 50% of ovarian cancer cases have an issue with a certain DNA repair pathway. These tumors are also highly responsive to PARP inhibitor treatment.

Thus, when the machine learning technology identifies these tumors, doctors can treat patients with PARP inhibitors. The technology may also identify those for whom this treatment would be of no benefit, avoiding needless treatment. 

Currently, the test has been tailored for Finnish patients and authorized at HUSLAB, though it could potentially be used on a global scale in the future. 

What is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries (the almond-shaped organs on each side of the uterus). Normally, the ovaries store eggs and produce hormones. Ovarian cancer may be found in one or both ovaries, even in early stages. The subtype of ovarian cancer depends on where the cancer is located. Epithelial tumors form in the thin layer of tissue covering the ovaries; this is the most common form. Germ cell carcinoma tumors form in the cells that form eggs, and stromal carcinoma tumors from connective tissue cells; these form around 5% of cases each. Finally, only 0.1% of ovarian cancer diagnoses are small cell carcinoma of the ovary. Without treatment, ovarian cancer can metastasize into other organs. 

The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown. However, BRCA gene mutations do increase the risk of developing this cancer. Symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal bloating or swelling
  • Pelvic pain
  • Appetite loss
  • Changes in urinary urgency or frequency
  • Abnormal bleeding or vaginal secretions
  • Breast tenderness
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Endometrial hyperplasia 
  • Back pain
  • Unintentional weight loss

Treatment options include medications, chemotherapy, radiation, and surgical interventions.

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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