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Blood test could boost early detection of ovarian cancer

Long-term study of 46,000 women offers hopes for national screening programme

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 05 May 2015

Preliminary findings from a long-term study of over 46,000 women reveals that regular blood tests can detect 86% of ovarian cancers before the point at which women normally would be diagnosed.

Doctors from University College London are cautiously optimistic that the work could lead to national screening programme meaning that cancers can be caught much earlier, so reducing the need for radical treatment.

Around 7,100 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 4,200 die of the disease each year in the UK. Ovarian tumours are often deadly as they are caught too late. The cancer is difficult to pick up as symptoms, including abdominal pain, persistent bloating and difficulty eating, are common in other conditions.

Roughly one in four was in the earliest stages of cancer development - when there is just a single tumour or it has only just started to spread.

The UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening performed annual blood tests on post-menopausal women across 13 NHS Trusts. They tracked changes in the levels of CA125 over time and if levels became elevated then the women were sent for further tests including an ultrasound scan.

Lead researcher Professor Usha Menon told the BBC that she is optimistic that even the more developed tumours are being caught earlier than they normally would be - increasing the odds of successful treatment.

"Ovarian tumours spew out high levels of a chemical called CA125, which is already used as a test if patients have symptoms. It's good, but the truth lies in whether we've picked up the cancer early enough to save lives," she said.

Prof Menon added: "There is no screening at the moment so we are awaiting the results before the NHS can decide. Many people would have to be screened so it really needs to translate to lives saved."

Prof Patrick Maxwell, from the Medical Research Council, said: "These exciting initial results could eventually go on to form the basis of a national screening programme for ovarian cancer." The mortality data is expected in the autumn.

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