Novel Ovarian Cancer Screening Featured in Chicago Tribune

New method views cancer cells at nanoscale, allowing for early detection

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ovarian cancer is the fifth-leading cause of death among women in the United States. The disease is difficult to detect and often isn’t found until the late stages.

Vadim BackmanVadim Backman, Walter Dill Scott Professor of biomedical engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and a research team from Northwestern University and NorthShore University HealthSystem have developed a novel approach to detecting the early presence of ovarian cancer cells. Their work was featured in the Chicago Tribune.

Using partial wave spectroscopic (PWS) microscopy, Backman and his collaborators were able to study cells at the nanoscale level, or at the size of one billionth of a meter. The close-up offered researchers the necessary view to detect the earliest presence of cancerous cells, well before a tumor even forms. A conventional microscope isn’t powerful enough to view such cells, and often won’t spot them until the disease has progressed.

To evaluate the effectiveness of PWS as a detection method, the team conducted a study that examined endometrium cells (part of the uterus) from 26 patients (11 with ovarian cancer and 15 controls) and endocervix cells from 23 patients (10 with ovarian cancer and 13 controls). The results showed cancer patients had a notable increase in the disorder strength of the epithelial cells compared to the control patients in the two studies.

According to Backman, the opportunity PWS provides to see the earliest signs of cancer could be used to someday predict ovarian and other forms of cancer like pancreatic, lung, and colon. "The cells are predisposed and some of them may accumulate a sufficient number of mutations to turn into frankly cancerous cells and give rise to tumor," Backman said in the article.

The research team’s findings were published in the April issue of the International Journal of Cancer

Read more about Vadim Backman’s study in the Chicago Tribune.