New method promising for earlier ovarian cancer detection
Research presented at last month’s annual meeting of the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM) showed that scientists are closer to developing a model for early detection of ovarian cancer using ultrasound. The researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago are using an ultrasound unit from Zonare Medical Systems and have found that pathological and Doppler sonographic changes associated with ovarian cancer in chickens are similar to those detected in women with ovarian cancer.
“The chicken is the only animal that spontaneously develops ovarian cancer like a human,” said Jacques Abramowicz, MD, professor of obstetrics/gynecology and director of obstetrics/gynecology ultrasound, Rush University Medical Center. “During ultrasound analysis, it was possible to identify hens with multiple follicular hierarchy, those without follicles or other ovarian abnormalities including solid masses and ascites. This means endovaginal ultrasound can be used to determine ovarian status including tumor progression or early changes in the ovarian morphology in hens.”
Normally, ovarian cancer is not detected until late stages due to lack of symptoms, resulting in high mortality rates. Scientists have tried for years to develop a model for ovarian cancer in rats but have not been successful. However, the histology of the cancer in chickens is identical to the human. The lack of a valid ovarian cancer animal model has been a major obstacle to ovarian cancer prevention research. Development of such a model could open the door to expediting the evaluation of chemo-preventive agents.
According to Abramowicz, a two-year-old hen is at the same reproductive age as a middle-aged woman. Also, chickens and humans tend to develop the same type of ovarian cancer on the surface of the ovaries. Abramowicz believes routine ultrasound exams, along with other critical tests, could be key in detecting early signs of ovarian cancer in chickens which then could be applied to developing the tools for early detection in humans. 
“Because the rate of ovarian cancer in hens is so high, we will be able to track hens from before they develop the disease until after and on into later stages,” said Abramowicz. “One of the early signs of ovarian cancer in chickens is the cessation of laying eggs. We can then do routine ultrasound and blood exams to track what is happening. It is our goal to develop a successful model which can then be transferred to human care, helping to push detection rates back to earlier stages, especially in high-risk women.”
The research project is a collaborative effort by Rush University Medical Center, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois at Chicago.