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Ovarian Research

The Penn Ovarian Cancer Research Center

About the Early Detection and Prevention Program

A lack of early detection or prevention strategies is presently a major cause of poor outcome in ovarian cancer patients. A screening test for ovarian cancer could save many lives. A cure is more than 90 percent if cancer is detected early, but less than 30 percent if the disease is detected late. This is true for most cancers. For example, more than 80 percent of women survive breast cancer, because most breast cancers are diagnosed early. By contrast, most ovarian cancers are diagnosed late. If we could achieve early diagnosis, mortality from ovarian cancer could be as low as for breast cancer.

Research Laboratory Activities

The research laboratory activities of the Early Detection and Prevention Program focus on improving the outcomes of ovarian cancer by facilitating earlier detection. These include the development of new blood tests, new imaging tools and other innovative techniques to detect ovarian cancer early. The Center focuses also on reducing the occurrence of ovarian cancer through the development of prevention methods. These include identification of risk factors, exploration of environmental causes of ovarian cancer and development of a preventive treatments including a vaccine.

This program encompasses more than 10 Penn and Penn-affiliated research laboratories working on:

  • Biomarker discovery     
  • Antibody and bioassay development
  • Molecular imaging including ultrasound, PET nuclear imaging, optical imaging and MRI
  • Virology
  • Tumor immunology and vaccine development
  • Tumor biology

The program is also composed of a group of distinguished Penn epidemiologists, population scientists and clinicians who collaborate to achieve the above goals.

Clinical Activities

The clinical activities of the Early Detection and Prevention Program will include a clinic for the screening and prevention of ovarian cancer. Several Penn clinicians and clinical epidemiologists/biostatisticians collaborate on the implementation of clinical trials. The program will offer clinical protocols of screening with risk calculation, imaging and molecular testing, and when appropriate, trials of chemoprevention and vaccine prevention.

This new program focuses initially on women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer or hereditary BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. These women have a lifetime risk of up to 40 percent (BRCA1) or 20 percent (BRCA2) to develop ovarian cancer and are more likely to die of ovarian cancer than breast cancer in the absence of prevention. Working together with the Cancer Risk Evaluation Program and the Rena Rowan Breast Program, the Ovarian Cancer Early Detection & Prevention Program addresses ovarian cancer specific issues in these women. Furthermore, the program develops protocols for women with other genetic or acquired reproductive conditions that may predispose them to ovarian cancer, working together with the Gastrointestinal Cancer Risk Evaluation Program and the Infertility Program, respectively.