Deadly ovarian cancer starts outside of ovaries

Years of research and screening for ovarian cancer have been focused in the wrong area, according to new findings from a McGill doctor.
Dr. Lucy Gilbert of the McGill University Health Centre says that by looking first at the Fallopian tubes, ovarian cancer can be detected sooner and treated more successfully. (CBC)


  • McGill to set up 12 new ovarian cancer clinics in Quebec
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A prominent ovarian cancer researcher says years of research and treatment of the disease has focused in the wrong area.

Dr. Lucy Gilbert, director of gynecologic oncology at the McGill University Health Centre, said her research shows the killer form of ovarian cancer doesn’t start in the ovaries, but often begins in the Fallopian tubes.

Radio Noon Montreal spoke to Dr. Lucy Gilbert. Listen here.  

"We, for so many years, [kept] looking at the wrong place," she said, suggesting the name of the disease should be changed to pelvic cancer to better reflect its nature.

"Put bluntly, we had the name wrong, the staging wrong, and the diagnostic testing wrong. It is no wonder we have lost so many lives to this disease."

Symptoms associated with ovarian cancer:

  • Bloating
  • The need to urinate frequently.
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain.
  • Difficulty eating, or feeling full quickly.

The research was published in The Lancet journal this month.

Based on the four-year research project called the Diagnosing Ovarian Cancer Early (DOvE) study, the McGill centre is opening 12 satellite clinics in Montreal to make it easier for women who are experiencing symptoms to get tested.

The clinics were announced Thursday at a press conference in Montreal.

In 2012, about 380 women in Montreal will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 70 per cent of them will die if the disease isn’t detected early.

The deadliest type of the disease, which accounts for about 90 per cent of deaths, actually starts outside of the ovaries, the DOvE research showed.

Early detection key

The reason why researchers have not been successful in curing the disease, Gilbert said, is that by the time the cancer reaches the ovaries, it has already progressed significantly.

"The single most important way to change a person from containment for some time to cure is to remove all visible disease," she said.

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"Up until now, because they come with such big disease and it affects all the intestine and the liver and all the vital organs, we just used to get as much out as possible [and] then give chemo.… People coming through DoVE, because they did not lose a lot of time, we got it and we can remove all visible disease."

She said the biggest message for women over 50 is that if they are experiencing symptoms, they should not assume it’s menopause or that all women experience bloating.

"We want you to call," she said. "One hundred and thirty-one of you may be wasting your time and wasting our time. But, one of you will have a high-grade cancer, which we can pick up early and cure."

All of the DOvE satellite clinics are expected to be open by April.

Women access the clinics through doctors' referrals or by calling the centres directly and undergoing a screening process over the phone.