We created our Stolen Moments campaign with the aim of raising £1 million to fund research into a screening tool. Your generous support is helping fund work by Professor Ahmed Ahmed's team at University of Oxford. We spoke to him about his vital research into early detection and the discoveries his team have made so far.
Why is funding an ovarian cancer screening tool so important?
Ovarian cancer is a very complicated disease to diagnose as symptoms are vague, easily confused with less-serious conditions like IBS, and often don’t present until the disease is at an advanced stage. Sadly, the later the disease is diagnosed the poorer the survival rate. If we are to make a major difference in our fight against ovarian cancer we must develop a screening tool that would catch the disease in its very earliest stages, or better still, before it even develops. A tool like this doesn’t exist anywhere in the world.
Why isn’t there one already?
The CA125 blood test and ultrasounds that are used to diagnose ovarian cancer have been the subject of previous studies, to see if they can be developed into a screening tool. However, after extensive research it has been concluded they are not sensitive enough to detect the disease in its earliest stages, which is why we are now exploring other options.
What type of tool will it be?
This is still uncertain but my team has made several exciting discoveries that have taken us closer to answering that question. We have found that the number of cells that have a protein called SOX2 are markedly increased in the fallopian tubes of women with or at high risk of ovarian cancer. Having a better understanding of how the disease develops is key to developing a screening tool.
How will my money help fund it?
Although we have made some exciting discoveries, there is still a lot more research to be done. Identifying the SOX2 protein is an important step forwards but it’s very difficult to get to, meaning a screening tool centred around it would be quite invasive. We are now looking for other changes that take place in the body simultaneously to the SOX2 protein production and, by harnessing different markers, we hope to find another marker that is easier to test for.
What impact would successfully developing one have?
Screening tools for other cancers have proven extremely effective. Since the development of cervical screening in 1988, cases have almost halved, as it looks for pre-cancer changes so that they can be treated before they become cancer. Around 7,400 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the UK each year and only 46% of women will survive beyond five years, so replicating the success of cervical screening has the potential to save thousands of lives. Around 250,000 cases are diagnosed around the world each year making the potential of global impact highly significant!
How long will it take?
Although this research is very exciting, we still have a long way to go if we are to develop a screening tool that could eventually become a national screening programme for those most at risk. We hope to complete our next stage of investigations within the next five years and then the next step would be to translate our findings into clinical research.
To help Ahmed and his team develop a screening tool that could save thousands of lives visit ovarian.org.uk/donate