Canadian researchers make important progress in distinguishing between types of ovarian cancers

Dr. Lynne-Marie Postovit is a University of Alberta oncology researcher and co-director of the Cancer Research Institute of Northern Alberta. Wes Rosa / Global News

New Canadian research is showing promise for oncologists looking for an accurate and inexpensive way of distinguishing between types of ovarian cancer.

Until now, doctors were not able to fully decipher between the sub-types of the disease, according to Dr. Lynne-Marie Postovit, the co-director of the Cancer Research Institute of Northern Alberta.

Postovit’s team at the University of Alberta co-led the new study, along with colleagues from the University of Calgary and Western University.

Researchers have discovered that biopsies of different types of ovarian cancer express different proteins. In identifying those proteins, oncologists can recommend better courses of treatment for specific patient needs.

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“We’re in an era, or moving towards an era of what we call precision medicine, where every patient that comes in we want to treat more precisely for their disease,” Postovit said. “So the more that we know about that, the better.”

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Not knowing exactly what form of the cancer is present means oncologists usually go with the harshest course of treatment, as they err on the side of caution.

This development can also help patients better understand exactly what form of the cancer runs in their family.

“It allows us to better direct genetic counselling… and really, help the woman make better decisions in regards to other types of screening she may need, as well as how to inform her family members,” Postovit said.

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The new test is proving to be 99 per cent accurate in distinguishing between endometrioid and high-grade serous carcinoma. Postovit is hopeful its use will be widespread within one to two years.

The study was partially funded by the Lois Hole Hospital for Women through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute. It’s funding like that, raised through the community, that Postovit says is critical in an advancement like this.

“I think it really shows how philanthropy can lead to changes in how we look at a disease and how we can benefit people all over the place relatively quickly if we collaborate and put our minds to it,” Postovit said.

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