Early Detection

Our involvement in early detection:

(excerpted fro the 2017 Annual Report to The Julie Fund)

Early Detection Efforts for Ovarian Cancer It is likely that the early detection of ovarian cancer will result in an improved outcome, since the treatment of early stage tumors (confined to the ovary) is quite effective. An effective early detection test requires not only a high sensitivity for the disease, but also a very high specificity to avoid over-diagnosis and needless surgery. Our team of physician scientists have been engaged in a multi-institution collaborative effort that will provide the foundation with a test for early detection of ovarian cancer. The goal of this study is to establish novel genomic (gene based) and proteomic (protein based) technologies to identify and detect very low levels of ovarian cancer specific biomarkers in patient specimens (blood and vaginal fluids). This project has a discovery and a validation phase. During the discovery phase, specific biomarkers are identified in patients with ovarian cancer at a single time point. This is possible thanks to our access to patients’ tissue through the Center for Gynecologic Oncology’s clinical research program. In the validation phase, these biomarkers will be tested for their change in time within the plasma of patients on a clinical trial that have eventually developed ovarian cancer. The latter is possible thanks to access to plasma of patients participating in the UKCTOCS study, which has enrolled 202,000 healthy women to monitor changes in their CA125 levels in plasma over time. Specifically, blood samples were collected from initially all healthy women every six months over the course of 10 years. Some of these women developed ovarian cancer and we can now look at their blood samples from the years leading up to their cancer diagnosis to see if we can detect specific proteins or DNA shed from cancer cells. During the past year we have made significant progress in the discovery phase of this project

1. We have identified a list of 50 proteins and related genes that have high potential to become effective biomarkers for ovarian cancer.

2. We have established a work process to collect vaginal fluids from women diagnosed with ovarian cancer at MGH to test whether these tissues can provide a more accurate source for an ovarian cancer screening test.

3. We have proved the capacity of a very novel sequencing technology to detect extremely low levels of mutated DNA shed from ovarian cancer in the vaginal fluids. The rationale for using vaginal fluids is that this tissue can be collected in a minimally invasive fashion (by carrying a small size vaginal tampon for a couple of hours or through a standard PAP smear) and contains proteins and DNA released from the fallopian tubes, i.e. the site that is currently believed to be the site of origin of ovarian cancer.

Watch & share these short videos!!

aimed at keeping every woman (and every woman you love) up to date with everything she needs to know regarding women’s cancers!!


One of our mission pillars is education and for the past couple of years, we have focused on getting the word out about early detection, risk factors and warning signs.  We highlighted five (5) of the most prominent women’s cancers in a flyer that was distributed both virally as well as in print at clinics and events.

Now it’s time to step up our game.  Understanding that many people are opting to WATCH their news, rather than READ it, we have created  a series of viral videos, all 1-2 minutes in length, that disseminates critical if not lifesaving information.

The first is on cervical cancer – and the GREAT news is that it’s 100% preventable.  Watch for yourself – and then share it with all the women you love.













The 5 Most Prevalent Women’s Cancers


Breast Cancer

Risk Factors

  • Being younger when you had your first menstrual period
  • Never giving birth, or being older at the birth of your first child
  • Starting menopause at a later age
  • Using hormone replacement therapy for a long time
  • Age
  • Personal history of breast cancer, dense breasts or other breast problems
  • A family history of breast cancer (parent, sibling, child)
  • Changes in your breast cancer related gene (BRCA1 or BRCA2)
  • Getting radiation therapy to the breast or chest
  • Being overweight, especially after menopause

Signs and Symptoms

  • A lump or pain in the breast
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
  • Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the breast area
  • Fluid other than breast milk, especially blood
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast


A mammogram is the screening test for breast cancer.  If you are between 40-49 or think you have a higher risk of breast cancer, talk to your doctor about the timing of a mammogram.  If you are between 50-74, the CDC recommends getting a mammogram every two years.


Ovarian Cancer

Risk Factors

  • Age – 90% over 40, 50% over 63
  • Obesity – higher rate of death (up to 50% higher)
  • Menstruation – early periods or menopause after 50
  • Smoking and Alcohol use increases risk of mucinous ovarian cancer
  • Having never given birth or having trouble getting pregnant
  • Fertility drugs increase the risk of “low malignant potential” tumors
  • Having endometriosis
  • Breast, uterine or colorectal cancer
  • Family history – mother, sister, daughter
  • Have an Eastern European or Jewish background

Signs and Symptoms

  • Ongoing cramps in your belly
  • Ongoing pain in pelvis or lower back
  • Abnormal bleeding from vagina
  • Abnormal discharge from your vagina
  • Pain or bleeding during sex
  • Nausea or loss of appetite, you cannot eat normally
  • Ongoing bloating or intestinal gas that is not relieved by home treatment measures
  • Bigger belly size or lump that can be felt in your belly
  • Decreased energy level
  • A change in your bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea
  • A change in your bladder habits, such as urinary frequency or urgency
  • Weight loss

Cervical Cancer

Risk Factors

  • Age – over 30
  • Smoking
  • Having HIV
  • Using birth control pills for a long time (longer than 5 years)
  • Giving birth to three or more children


  • Early on, there may not be any signs or symptoms
  • Advances cervical cancer may cause abnormal bleeding and discharge from the vagina, such as bleeding after sex.


A PAP test is recommended for women aged 21-65, looks for pre-cancers, cell changes, on the cervix that can be tested so cervical cancer is prevented.  HPV testing looks for HPV, the virus that can cause precancerous cell change and cervical cancer.


    • Get the HPV vaccine
    • Get your pap test regularly
    • Don’t smoke
    • Use a condom


Uterine Cancer

Risk Factors

  • Age – most uterine cancers are found in women who are going through or who have gone through menopause
  • Being obese
  • Taking estrogen by itself for hormone replacement
  • Having trouble getting pregnant or fewer than 5 periods a year
  • Taking Tamoxifen
  • Having people in your family with a history of uterine, colon or ovarian cancer


  • Vaginal discharge that is not normal for you
  • Abnormal bleeding
  • Pain or pressure in your pelvis


There is no known way to prevent uterine cancer but these things have been shown to lower your risk:

    • Using birth control pills
    • Maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active
    • Taking progesterone if you are taking estrogen


Vaginal and Vulvar Cancers

Risk Factors

  • Having HPV
  • Having had cervical pre-cancer or cancer
  • Having a condition like HIV
  • Smoking
  • Having chronic vulva itching or burning


  • Abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding
  • A change in bathroom habits such as blood in the stool or urine, going more frequently or constipation
  • Pain in pelvis or abdomen
  • Color changes on skin of the vulva
  • Sores, lumps, rashes or ulcers that do not go away
  • Pain in your pelvis or abdomen during urination or sex


    • Get the HPV vaccine
    • Take steps to reduce the chances of getting HIV or HPV, such as avoiding sex or limiting the number of sex partners
    • Don’t smoke


Did you know…

  • More than 200,000 women get breast cancer each year and 40,000 women die.
  • Another 83,000 women will be diagnosed with gynecologic cancer this year
  • Cervical cancer is the only gynecologic cancer that has a recommended screening test.

You can take control of your health and reduce your cancer risk.

  • Stay away from tobacco.
  • Get to and stay at a healthy weight.
  • Get moving with regular physical activity.
  • Eat healthy with plenty of fruits and vegetable.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink (if you drink at all).
  • Know yourself, your family history, and your risks.
  • Get regular check-ups and cancer screening tests.

Source: All information obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Massachusetts General Hospital.