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Tracking Ovarian Cancer Through Blood Cells

With no reliable screening tests and few symptoms, ovarian cancer is among the hardest forms of cancer to diagnose. Research underway in San Diego analyzes blood from women with ovarian cancer to track tumor cells and better understand the spread of cancer.


Kelly Bethel, M.D., Scripps Clinic, lead researcher

Joan Wyllie, ovarian cancer survivor, founder of Nine Girls Ask


Ovarian cancer is among the hardest forms of cancer to diagnose. There are no reliable screening tests and few symptoms. Most tumors are discovered at a very late stage making for relatively low survival rates, but research underway at Scripps Clinic may help doctors identify relapse at an earlier point and possibly contribute to early detection.

Scripps researchers are now seeking local ovarian cancer patients and survivors to donate blood for the study. By analyzing circulating tumor cells in the blood stream they hope to get a better understanding of the spread of cancer.

“We hope this study will someday lead to a better test to detect ovarian cancer earlier, and in the short term it could potentially help guide more targeted treatment plans,” said Kelly Bethel, M.D., of Scripps Clinic, who is leading the research. Collaborators on the study include Peter Kuhn, Ph.D., of the Scripps Research Institute and Jim Hicks, Ph.D., of Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory.

Photo credit: Scripps Clinic

Blood of woman with ovarian cancer. The suspected circulating ovarian cancer cell (in red with a blue nucleus) is surrounded by normal blood cells (in green with blue nuclei).

Twenty women are enrolled in the study and Scripps is looking for another 20 over the next nine months. It is open to all women with a history of ovarian cancer and involves a one-time blood donation. For more information call (760) 492-6600.

The study is partially funded by Nine Girls Ask for a Cure for Ovarian Cancer, a local advocacy group. It is also partially funded by a grant from the physics oncology initiative of the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

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