Catching A Silent Killer

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Ovarian cancer is often called the silent killer. Nearly three-quarters of all women with the disease will not be diagnosed until the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries, giving them less than a 20 percent chance of survival.

According to Dr. Gary Leiserowitz, a gynecological oncologist, "This is a disease that's screaming for a good early detection blood test."

Now, CBS News Correspondent Maureen Maher reports, researchers at Atairgin technologies believe they have one.

With a simple blood test, Dorothy Bettencourt is trying to prevent history from repeating itself. She explains, "I lost my mother to ovarian cancer in 1965; we didn't know she had it. It was an insidious disease that you don't know you have."

Bettencourt is one of 1,600 women participating in a study by Atairgin, which has developed a simple and easy blood test that can detect a particular lipid, or fat molecule, that is elevated even in the earliest stages of this type of cancer.

Currently, the most commonly used test, the ca-125, checks for elevated levels of protein. It's a test that's less than 50 percent accurate.

Like most ovarian cancer patients, Marnie Keith's relatively benign symptoms and negative results from the ca-125 test led her and her doctor to believe she was cancer-free and needed only to have a cyst removed. "But after surgery," Keith recalls, "they said that I had ovarian cancer, which I was very surprised because I thought doing this blood test was foolproof."

Ten months later, after a hysterectomy and chemotherapy, doctors must still use the same old test to check her current progress.

Says Keith, "I would like to go in every two months and know that it's accurate."

The new test is expected to have a better than 90 percent accuracy rate. Researchers are hoping for FDA approval on the test by early next year, and believe the same technology can also be used in detecting breast cancer.