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Simple urine test for ovarian cancer which could radically improve survival rates on the horizon

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 12/09/2018 Sarah Knapton

The new test could spot cancer as early as stage one when there is a 90 per cent chance of survival, which charities said would be ‘the holy grail’ in prevention. © Provided by Shutterstock The new test could spot cancer as early as stage one when there is a 90 per cent chance of survival, which charities said would be ‘the holy grail’ in prevention. A simple urine test for ovarian cancer which could radically improve survival rates is on the horizon.

Scientists at the University of Hull have discovered a protein which is present in the tissue of women suffering from early stage ovarian cancer when there are no symptoms.

Often women do not realise they have the disease until it is too late, and are diagnosed at stage three, when just one in five will survive for five years.

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But the new test could spot cancer as early as stage one when there is a 90 per cent chance of survival, which charities said would be ‘the holy grail’ in prevention. 

Dr Barbara Guinn, Head of Biomedical Sciences at Hull University, said they had shown the test works in tissue samples and are now carrying out tests to see if it can be spotted in the urine of women suffering from cancer. 

“What’s interesting about ovarian cancer is it’s like a silent cancer. It develops in the middle of your tummy, and it’s not uncommon for women as they get older to start gaining a little bit of tummy weight,” she told the British Science Festival in Hull. 

“The problem of having an ovary cancer is it tends to develop right in the middle of this area and it’s not very easy to see, so by the time you become aware of the problem it tends to be quite well developed.

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“And it happens at an age when most women are going into menopause so suddenly your periods aren’t working as normal then it is easy to think it is menopause rather than anything more sinister.

“We wanted to look for proteins that were unique to ovarian cancer. We were hoping it would make it easier to diagnose ovarian cancer. A stage three diagnosis can mean survival rates as low as 20 per cent, but with early detection that can be increased dramatically to around 90 pr cent.”  

Around 7,200 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Britain each year and just 35 per cent will still be alive within 10 years because so many people are diagnosed too late.

Current tests for ovarian cancer also pick up other disease, such as infections and the false positive rate can be as high as 80 per cent. 

Doctor handing container with urine sample to a woman © Getty Doctor handing container with urine sample to a woman In tissues the new biomarker, dubbed ‘ovarian cancer protein’ was detectable in 18 per cent of stage one cancers and 36 per cent of stage two cancers which could potentially save thousands of lives.

The team is currently testing the biomarker in urine samples of women with ovarian cancer to find out if they also contain the protein and are due to publish their results shortly.

If successful, the team hope a simple urine test will be available within the next two o three years and be given alongside other regular health checks. 

“Our biggest hope is that we find this protein in urine and it will provide a screening method for patients who go into a Well Woman clinic and have their breasts checked and they will do a test for ovarian cancer,” added Dr Guinn. 

“It will help us confirm a diagnosis of ovarian cancer at the earliest stages. We’re on the last step, we’re very close.”

Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, Annwen Jones, said: “Early detection of ovarian cancer is the holy grail. Research into new biomarkers shows extreme promise and we look forward to a future where more women are diagnosed at the earliest possible stage.”

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