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Ovarian cancer: profiling a deadly disease at the MUHC

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Published: 1 May 2008

Ovarian cancer (OC) is the fourth leading cause of death from cancer in Canadian women yet 90% of OC patients could be saved with an early diagnosis.

Ovarian cancer (OC) is the fourth leading cause of death from cancer in Canadian women yet 90% of OC patients could be saved with an early diagnosis. MUHC Gynecological Oncologist, Dr. Lucy Gilbert, has made it her mission to profile and track this killer, which takes so many lives because of delayed diagnosis. She has put together a talented team of professionals, and with the financial support of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) Foundation’s “Best Care For Life” campaign and the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) has devised a trial to help identify this disease at a curable stage (i.e. Stage I).

"In the month of May, we celebrate Mother's Day, a day honoring all women, mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, grandmothers, friends. In recognition of the valuable role that these women play in our lives we need to raise awareness of an insidious disease that has claimed the lives of countless women. “Ovarian cancer is an “insidious killer” which sneaks up on women in the guise of many benign symptoms, such as bloating, thickened waist line, urinary frequency, etc, so it is ignored by women and their doctors, explains Dr Gilbert.

“However, in some women these symptoms are due to the presence of early ovarian cancer, which over a period of time spreads and involves vital organs and becomes incurable”. The DOVE study team, has spent the last two years painstakingly setting up the “Mother of all trials,” DOVE (Detecting Ovarian cancer Early) to try and nail this disease at its earliest stages. Doctors, from the MUHC have teamed up with scientists from McGill University and engineers from Concordia to pool their expertise to work on the detection strategy.

In addition to the expertise of its doctors, nurses and researchers, the DOVE team benefits from the support of the MUHC Foundation, which has raised more than $300,000 in support of the Women’s Health Mission of the MUHC through the sales of its bestselling cookbook Montreal Cooks. These funds are being used to purchase essential equipment as well as high-tech tools for the treatment of women with cancer, such as a Gamma Detection System probe and an Endo-Vaginal Ultrasound that Dr. Gilbert will use in her DOVE trial.

Montreal Cooks was developed by volunteer Karen Dubrofsky, who announced the reissue and national distribution of this culinary masterpiece. “I am thrilled that the first printing was a sell-out, and am proud to support Dr. Gilbert’s important research,” said Dubrofsky. “With Shoppers Drug Mart carrying the book across Canada, I am confident the second printing will be just as successful.”

The principal goal of Dr. Gilbert’s research is to produce a diagnostic probability tool, which would be made available on the internet for women with symptoms and their doctors to use as a decision aid. It would to help them decide whether their symptoms indicate a justifiable risk of OC, enough to warrant urgent diagnostic testing. This will be the first tool of its kind in the world aimed at helping patients determine if they need further testing for ovarian cancer. All existing decision aids are intended to help patients or doctors decide on treatment after diagnosis. The trial will also allow the team to develop a software program that would minimize over-diagnosis or missed diagnosis, which are all too common when non-experts perform endovaginal ultrasounds. A laboratory component of this project will focus on determining the specific molecular markers to identify early stage disease.

The success of this colossal research project hinges on the participation of all women in Montreal over the age of 50, who have the appropriate symptoms. Of the 350 ovarian cancers diagnosed each year in Montreal, 75% are diagnosed in advanced stages (III / IV) and only 20% at stage I. The DOVE team wants these figures reversed. The list of these signs is available online at the following address www.muhc.ca/studies/dove , where people will also find the exact procedure to follow in order to take part in the DOVE study. The first step will involve contacting the hotline 1-866-716-3267 where candidates will be given a questionnaire to decide on their eligibility. Those who enroll will be given the appropriate diagnostic tests, and will benefit from a 6 months follow-up.

Dr. Gilbert is the Director of the MUHC Division of Gynecological Oncology and a researcher in the Human Reproduction and Development Axis of the Research Institute of the MUHC.

For more information on Montreal Cooks and where to buy it, visit the MUHC Foundation's Web site: www.muhcfoundation.com.

The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) is a comprehensive academic health institution with an international reputation for excellence in clinical programs, research and teaching. The MUHC is a merger of five teaching hospitals affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University--the Montreal Children's, Montreal General, Royal Victoria, and Montreal Neurological Hospitals, as well as the Montreal Chest Institute. Building on the tradition of medical leadership of the founding hospitals, the goal of the MUHC is to provide patient care based on the most advanced knowledge in the health care field, and to contribute to the development of new knowledge. www.muhc.ca

The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI MUHC) is a world-renowned biomedical and health-care hospital research centre. Located in Montreal, Quebec, the institute is the research arm of the MUHC, the university health center affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University. The institute supports over 600 researchers, nearly 1200 graduate and post-doctoral students and operates more than 300 laboratories devoted to a broad spectrum of fundamental and clinical research. The Research Institute operates at the forefront of knowledge, innovation and technology and is inextricably linked to the clinical programs of the MUHC, ensuring that patients benefit directly from the latest research-based knowledge. The Research Institute of the MUHC is supported in part by the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec. For further details visit: www.muhc.ca/research.

The McGill University Health Centre Foundation
The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) is currently engaged in a landmark redevelopment project that will ensure that it remains a world leader in patient care, teaching and research for generations to come. In support of this ambitious construction and renovation project, the MUHC Foundation, in partnership with the site-based foundations of the MUHC, has undertaken the $300 million Best Care for Life capital campaign, of which more than $150 million has already been secured. By funding critical transitional projects on the current sites and by supporting the construction and modernization of the Glen and Mountain campuses, the MUHC Foundation is ensuring that, now and in the future, the MUHC can continue to provide its patients with the best care for life.

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Contact: Isabelle Kling
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