Understanding Ovarian Cancer: The Pathologist's Role and Advances in Diagnosis Skip to main content


08 May 2024

Understanding Ovarian Cancer: The Pathologist's Role and Advances in Diagnosis

Today is World Ovarian Cancer Day, a date to reflect on the impact of this type of tumour in the lives of countless women worldwide. This day serves as a reminder of the need for improved diagnostics and treatments to fight this insidious disease, and in this article, I want to focus on the pathologist's role in understanding ovarian cancer and the advancements made in its diagnosis.

Ovarian cancer is not a single disease but a group of various types of cancer that can affect the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and primary peritoneal cavity. Studies indicate that there are over 30 different forms of ovarian cancer, each with different frequencies and prognosis. 

Ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest cancers affecting women. Despite the existence of various screening tests, significant limitations persist, often resulting in delayed diagnoses due to symptoms resembling those of other less severe conditions. As a result, many individuals receive a diagnosis only after the cancer has already metastasised, making treatment more challenging.

As a pathologist, I am well aware of the challenges posed by ovarian cancer and the critical role we play in its detection and management. From the moment tissue samples arrive at the laboratory, it becomes our responsibility to provide accurate diagnoses. Motivated by the understanding that ovarian cancer is a relatively uncommon but destructive disease that primarily affects older women, we aim to be precise in our assessments.

In recent years, the advent of molecular testing has transformed the landscape of ovarian cancer diagnosis. These cutting-edge technologies, now widely adopted by pathologists, have ushered in a new era of personalised medicine. By analysing the molecular profile of tumours, oncologists can tailor treatment strategies to individual patients, maximising efficacy, and minimising side effects.

However, integrating molecular data into diagnostic practices presents its own set of challenges. As pathologists, we must continuously update our knowledge to effectively correlate morphological findings with molecular analyses. This synergy between traditional pathology and modern molecular techniques is paramount in guiding treatment decisions and improving patient outcomes.

To accurately diagnose ovarian cancer, we need to carefully examine the macroscopic findings and correlate them with morphological features such as cell types, architectural patterns, and the presence of specific markers. This approach helps us identify different subtypes of ovarian tumours, each requiring different types of treatment. By taking a comprehensive approach, we can ensure that patients receive tailored therapeutic interventions that are most effective.

Yet, the task has its challenges. Limited tissue samples, often obtained through biopsies, pose a significant hurdle in reaching a definitive diagnosis.

At Unilabs, we are experts in analysing biopsies for the accurate diagnosis of ovarian cancer. We firmly believe that widespread screening initiatives are crucial to combat the high mortality rate of this disease. Early detection is pivotal in providing timely intervention and improving survival rates.

Fortunately, groundbreaking discoveries continue to shape our understanding of ovarian cancer. Collaborative efforts, such as those led by Professor Joseph Carlson from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC) and me (Unilabs Sweden)*, shed light on pre-malignant lesions in the fallopian tubes, offering potential avenues for prevention and early intervention. By identifying these precursor lesions, we may preempt the development of aggressive ovarian tumours, giving hope for future generations of women.

As we commemorate World Ovarian Cancer Day, let us raise awareness and renew our commitment to advancing research, improving diagnostics, and enhancing patient care. Together, we can make meaningful strides in the fight against ovarian cancer through collaboration and innovation.

Blog author: Dr Eugenia Colón, Unilabs Sweden Consultant Pathologist

*(Colón E, Carlson JW. Evaluation of the fallopian tubes after neoadjuvant chemotherapy: persistence of serous tubal intraepithelial carcinoma. Int J Gynecol Pathol. 2014.)

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