An experimental test that uses antibodies to detect ovarian tumor cells in the blood correctly identified 16 of 17 women who had the cancer, a Belgian company said on Tuesday.

MabCure Inc said its monoclonal antibodies threw up no false positives — meaning none of them incorrectly identified the blood of healthy women as carrying tumors.

"The availability of a simple blood test with the ability to diagnose the presence of ovarian cancer early and to differentiate it from benign tumors has the potential to save thousands of lives and reduce the need for unnecessary surgery," Amnon Gonenne, CEO of MabCure, said in a statement.

"Our findings are an important step in that direction and also have significant implications for the future development of cancer-specific targeted therapies."

If detected early, ovarian cancer can be cured, but more than 70 percent of women have advanced disease by the time they are diagnosed. Ovarian cancer kills 15,000 U.S. women each year, and 140,000 globally.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer are vague and often missed. A protein called CA-125 is elevated in ovarian cancer cells but is not a good test to screen for early cancer.

MabCure has designed lab engineered monoclonal antibodies (MAbs), which are immune system proteins, that were designed to specifically home in on ovarian tumors.

They tested several different versions using blood samples from 17 patients with ovarian cancer, five patients with benign tumors of the ovaries, 24 healthy young females and eight males at UZ Hospital in Leuven, Belgium.

Each version correctly diagnosed 16 of the 17 ovarian cancers, a diagnostic sensitivity of 94 percent, the company said.

"MabCure is currently evaluating the diagnostic potential of its MAbs in detecting ovarian cancer in high-risk patients in a clinical study in Thailand," the company said in a statement.