Blood, Ultrasound Tests Catch Ovarian Cancer: Study
Thursday, 12 March 2009

Blood tests and ultrasound scans can catch deadly ovarian cancer at the most early and treatable stages, British doctors reported on Tuesday, saying it may finally be possible to screen women for the disease.

Their study of 200,000 women who used both tests together caught 90 percent of ovarian cancer cases, while using ultrasound alone each year caught 75 percent. Nearly half the cases were in the early stage I or stage II phases, when the cancer has not spread far and can sometimes be cured.

As there is no current good test for ovarian cancer, having a reliable screening test could save many lives, Ian Jacobs and Usha Menon of University College London reported in the journal Lancet Oncology.

"The initial findings of this long-term study are encouraging, particularly because almost half of the ovarian cancers detected were at an early stage (stage 1), when survival rates can be as high as 90 percent," Peter Reynolds of Britain's Ovarian Cancer Action said in a statement.

Ovarian cancer is one of the most deadly cancers, in part because the symptoms are so vague that women often are not diagnosed until it is too late.

It was diagnosed in more than 21,000 women in the United States in 2008 and killed more than 15,000; in Britain it affects about 7,000 women a year and kills more than 4,000.

Jacobs and Menon said both the CA125 blood test and the transvaginal ultrasound test have been fine-tuned in recent years and now offer more useful information to doctors.

They analyzed interim results of a trial that started in 2001, enrolling more than 200,000 women past menopause who got one of three screening approaches: both ultrasound and the CA 125 blood test annually, ultrasound alone or no screening.

CA125 looks for a compound produced by ovarian tumors, but other conditions such as endometriosis, benign ovarian cysts, pregnancy, and pelvic inflammatory disease all produce higher levels of CA125.

Using both screens together found 34 out of 38 cases of ovarian cancer that eventually developed, while ultrasounds alone found 24 out of 32, Jacobs and Menon reported.

It is not clear whether these tests have reduced the death rate from ovarian cancer among the women in the study, the researchers said -- more time is needed to show that.

"While preliminary, these encouraging data demonstrate that we may be able to use current affordable technologies to detect ovarian cancer at a curable stage," Dr. Beth Karlan of the American Society of Clinical Oncology said in a statement.

"Further follow-up should help us determine if these approaches can be cost-effective and truly reduce deaths from ovarian cancer."


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