A clinical trial of a screening test to detect ovarian cancer in its early stages is set to start in a group of around 300 women from Victoria and South Australia.

Developed by Hudson Institute scientist Dr Andrew Stephens, with funding from the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation (OCRF), the trial will be conducted for three years.

For the trial, the women will be recruited to test if the method developed in the lab to diagnose high-grade serous ovarian cancers works in practice.

“Dr Stephens has designed the screening test as a cervical swab test, but blood-based versions are also being investigated.”

This group will include at-risk women who have decided to undergo prophylactic surgery to remove their ovaries and fallopian tubes due to changes in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes that make them vulnerable to them to breast or ovarian cancer.

The study will also examine these removed fallopian tubes for pre-cancerous lesions.

Dr Stephens said: “It is only in the past few years we have understood that most of these tumours arise in the fallopian tubes.

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“I am hopeful we will be able to detect changes at that early point, which would give women the best therapeutic outcomes. This would be a similar approach to a cervical screening test, which detects pre-cancerous lesions of the cervix.”

An early detection test for ovarian cancer does not exist, while other cancers can be diagnosed by effective screening at an early stage such as cervical cancer through a cervical screening test or breast cancer through mammography.

Dr Stephens has designed the screening test as a cervical swab test, but blood-based versions are also being investigated.

OCRF has also awarded funding to Dr Simon Chu, another Hudson Institute researcher, for investigation of an uncommon type of ovarian cancer dependent on hormones, called granulosa cell tumours.

Although this type of cancer can be treated successfully, it can recur between five and 20 years later, when the body becomes resistant even to chemotherapy. Dr Chu is probing for better treatments for such kinds of ovarian cancers.