MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The disease often goes undetected until it’s too late for the women who get it, but groundbreaking research at the University of Minnesota could mean ovarian cancer is discovered much earlier.

As part of our Trees of Hope, WCCO is highlighting the work the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance, or MOCA, is doing in our community.

This time we’re looking at how the money the organization raises goes to research.

WCCO found one professor’s personal connection to the cancer she’s fighting to protect future generations from.

Whether running a test in her lab or finishing up her latest report, Professor Amy Skubitz has found her life’s work.

“It was really when my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. So it was around 1982,” Skubitz said.

A graduate student at the time, Skubitz had planned for a career in medicine. Still, she didn’t know that her mother’s stage-three diagnosis gave her less than a 50/50 chance of survival.

“It was not good news, but I at the time didn’t know what the statistics were. I didn’t realize how bad it was.” Skubitz said.

Her mother’s fight eventually led her to two decades of studying ovarian cancer at the University of Minnesota.

“The key is really to detect it really early on,” Skubitz said.

Right now, just 20 percent of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed before it spreads beyond the ovaries.

But, through routine pap tests, Skubitz’s study is starting to establish a pattern, trying to find if there is a constant release of cancerous cells.

Right now, 120 volunteers are helping with the study.  They all have been identified as at risk or past ovarian cancer patients.

“The goal of the project is to identify ovarian cancer biomarkers in the normal pap test that’s always done routinely,” Skubitz said.

Doctors recommend women have a pap test every three years to detect cervical cancer.

The U of M believes Skubitz’s study could be five to 10 years away from also finding ovarian cancer.

Peter Argenta is the Gynocologic Oncology Division Director

“To get the additional benefit of this knowledge from something that you’re already doing anyway would really be a tremendous advantage,”  Argenta said.

Over the last 10 years, the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance has granted Skubitz more than $700,000 to continue her work.

The work she still does for her mom, who lived 28 years after beating the disease.

“Very lucky. I just think it was a miracle, really,”  Skubitz said.

MOCA says 400 women in Minnesota are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year.

Liz Collin