‘We call it the silent killer, but I think there is a way to detect it’

Wellbeing of Women researcher Dr David Jeevan is working to develop a new, groundbreaking test for ovarian cancer. We spoke to him about his exciting project and what it could mean for thousands of women

by Alice Sholl | 8th May 2020

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“There are no specific symptoms – sometimes none at all – so when a woman is finally diagnosed, it is likely to be advanced and she will die within a few years.

“We call it the ‘silent killer’, but I think there is a way to detect and treat it early. We just need to find out what that is.”

Dr David Jeevan is a senior doctor in obstetrics and gynaecology. He became a Wellbeing of Women Research Fellow in 2017, which has given him the opportunity to conduct research into developing the first quick, non-invasive test for ovarian cancer.

“If you imagine a street, one woman on that street will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in their lifetime. One in 52 women – that’s how common it is.

“But because it’s so difficult to diagnose, most women come to us once the cancer is at stage three or four. 73-87% of these women will die within five years.

“I can use these skills to be a much better doctor too”

“If a woman was diagnosed at stage one, however, that five-year survival rate jumps to 93%. It’s a significant transformation.”

Because symptoms – such as bloating, weeing more often and bellyache – are similar to those of other conditions, it’s rarely spotted this early. Current tests are also invasive, slow and costly to the NHS, so not every woman with these symptoms can have them performed.

However, Dr Jeevan’s urine test “could be done at home and provide a result within the week”, helping doctors find the cancer before it spreads and saving thousands of lives.

Improving care for women

Dr Jeevan used to spend most of his time managing women’s care, making diagnoses and operating, but he says he delved into research after discovering that much ovarian cancer care is based on old evidence:

“Some of it is 20, 30 years old. While looking after patients is something I will always want to do, I want to see improvement in their care.

“I got to the point in my career where I wondered: ‘Is there a way we can do this better?’ and pitched this idea to Wellbeing of Women.”

Since starting his research, Dr Jeevan has been carrying out cutting-edge laboratory research and collaborating with ovarian cancer researchers around the world.

“It’s been amazing working with really dedicated, talented scientists and using next-generation technology.

“I love it, every day is different. I can make a difference in ovarian cancer and I can use these skills to be a much better doctor too.”

One step ahead

Ovaries produce hormones – the same kind that wake us up in the morning and determine our biological sex – and researchers think that when a woman has ovarian cancer, some of those hormones begin to rise.

“If we can find out which ones rise, then we can possibly determine whether you have ovarian cancer or not,” Dr Jeevan says.

Thanks to Wellbeing of Women’s investment, Dr Jeevan’s research may take us one step closer to diagnosing ovarian cancer in women before it’s too late.

“I’m just very thankful to Wellbeing of Women,” Dr Jeevan says. “You identify those specific women’s diseases that need funding most – then people like me can go and research them for you."