We look back at our year of ovarian cancer research

As we approach Christmas, it is a time to reflect on the year that has passed and think about the new year we are about to enter.

Thanks to your support we can look back with pride, at Eve we have had a fantastic year for research, and I would like to share some of those successes with you. We have had four papers published in 2019 that take us closer to a future where we can better estimate people’s risk of ovarian cancer and more women can take steps to prevent this awful disease.

The vaginal microbiome and ovarian cancer risk

Our first big development this year in ovarian cancer was a research paper led by Prof Martin Widschwendter, found that lower levels of ‘good’ bacteria, known as the microbiome, in the vagina were linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. This research adds another piece to the puzzle of ovarian cancer risk prediction. The team are planning to progress this research to the next phase to see if they can find evidence of a causal link between a lower vaginal microbiome and a higher risk of ovarian cancer, if they do the team believes this will be enough evidence to look at trialling probiotics to increase the levels of ‘good’ bacteria in the vagina to try and reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.

Expanding BRCA testing

Later on in the year we had two papers led by Prof Ranjit Manchanda, Barts Cancer Centre, which gives evidence for the expansion of genetic testing to help more women be informed of their cancer risk. In Prof Manchanda’s study, 60% of the people found to have an alteration on the BRCA gene wouldn’t have qualified for testing under the current NHS guidelines. Prof Manchanda believes we can harness our current genetic testing technology to benefit many more people by expanding the testing criteria, “The current NHS system is set up to prioritise diagnosis and treatment, and is not utilising the full potential of newer technologies for cancer prevention” says Dr Ranjit Manchanda. “The current system of restricted access to BRCA testing is associated with huge underutilisation. Our improved understanding of genetics and the technological capabilities we now have provide us with a fantastic opportunity to shift our healthcare landscape towards prevention of cancer.”

Prof Manchanda’s other study found that it would save lives and be cost effective to do genetic testing at the point of diagnosis for all women diagnosed with breast cancer. This would allow the women with a BRCA alteration to be able to protect themselves from ovarian cancer, as well as for other members of their family to also get tested. We’re now going to be calling for NHS policy to change to expand the criteria for people to be able to get genetically tested for a BRCA alteration.

A new ovarian cancer test

Our fourth big advancement in the prevention of ovarian cancer came from our 7 year international research programme called PROMISE. Dr Bobby Graham from Queen’s University Belfast developed a new test which could help detect ovarian cancer up to 2 years earlier than current detection techniques. This early stage research shows promise for a new way to test for ovarian cancer, the team now hopes to trial it in a larger group of people.

Thanks to your support, these research programmes have been able to happen and we are getting closer to achieving our mission, of seeing a world where fewer women are diagnosed and many more women survive gynaecological cancers.

It is great to be able to look back on the year and feel proud of what your support and our work has achieved, but we aren’t there yet and we need to keep funding research, and calling for change to get these discoveries over the line and save more lives. That is why we are asking for your support this Christmas, so that we can continue to fund more research programmes like these, and be able to look back this time next year and feel we have done even more.