Joan Wyllie, a five-year ovarian cancer survivor, heads up an organization called Nine Girls Ask for a Cure for Ovarian Cancer. Kelly Bethel, M.D., a researcher and pathologist at Scripps Clinic, is heading up an ovarian cancer study which Nine Girls Ask for a Cure for Ovarian Cancer is helping to fund. The two women have joined forces in order to find out more about how ovarian cancer evolves. This information could help women detect and treat ovarian cancer earlier, hopefully improving their survival rate. So far, the study includes 20 women who are currently suffering from ovarian cancer and the duo hopes to enroll 20 more ovarian cancer sufferers in the study as well.
Ovarian cancer is the 5th leading cause of cancer-related death largely because noticeable symptoms often don’t arise until much later in its progression and there are no reliable screen tests. This means that most women aren’t discovering they have this cancer until their chances of survival are only 40 percent or less. This is why ovarian cancer is considered one of the deadliest gynecological cancers. However, if the cancer is caught early on, survival rates can be as high as 90 percent.
Most other types of cancer survival rates have improved over the last 40 years in part thanks to early detection methods. However, ovarian cancer is not one of them. Approximately 14,000 women die in America each year from this disease. This is why Wyllie and Bethel are working so hard to find better methods of early detection.
When Wyllie was first diagnosed in 2008, she had her determination to thank. After not feeling well for several months, Wyllie began the process of finding out what was making her sick. After seeing at least 9 doctors who diagnosed her with everything from stomach problems to mental issues, she finally insisted on a minimally invasive, exploratory surgical procedure, a laparoscopy where the surgeon feeds a camera through the patient’s belly button to see into the abdomen and pelvic regions. There, the doctors found Wyllie’s ovarian cancer.
But Wyllie did not take her diagnosis lying down. Wyllie says she has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. She was a realtor and owned a restaurant, Tomatoes, in Bonita with her husband. So, when Wyllie decided to find out everything she could about her disease, there was nothing stopping her. After surgery to remove the tumor and months of chemotherapy, Wyllie founded her organization to help fund more research.
Dr. Bethel was leading several cancer studies with co-researchers, Peter Kuhn, a physicist at The Scripps Research Institute and Jim Hicks, a molecular biologist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. Bethel had heard of Wyllie’s program and applied for funding for a new ovarian cancer study which would utilize a new, more sophisticated, laser-enabled digital microscope and software algorithm developed by Kuhn.
“We can use this new technology and platform to see how solid tumors are growing,” Bethel said. Now, with the ability to see changes in solid tumors and identify them early, “we have a way to win this war.”
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Image Credit: Ovarian Cancer Ribbon Magnet by Benjamin Ragheb. Used under a creative commons license.
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