BY: SWIKAR OLI
A 14-year study of over 200,000 women recently published in The Lancet may have brought us closer than we have ever been to screening for ovarian cancer. Effective ovarian cancer screening methods are badly needed, as current prognosis methods either do not detect the cancer or have too many false positives, which can lead to unnecessary surgery to have the patient’s ovaries removed.
Doctors have two ways to screen for ovarian cancer. One method uses ultrasound to check the ovaries, and the other is a blood test, known as CA125. CA125 is a blood test for detecting tumors, though TIME said it’s not “specific or sensitive enough” to detect the ovarian growths. As The New York Times reports, “only about 45 per cent of ovarian cancer patients are still alive five years after a diagnosis.”
The new study also used CA125 blood tests, but researchers used a formula that also considers the women’s age and the change in their CA125 levels over time to calculate the risk factor. Whereas a single CA125 test may not account for varying baseline levels from patient to patient, several tests can check if the levels rise, signalling a growth.
But as Dr. Usha Menon, the study’s co-author admits, the study still needs work. “This [study] is almost there, but not yet,” she said to the Times.
Patients who used the CA125 test with the algorithm saw a 28 per cent reduction in cancer death when the researchers removed those patients who may have already had ovarian cancer, TIME reported. More studies will have to confirm the findings to further verify the results.
For some doctors, the study comes as a relief. “It’s devastating,” said Dr. Karen Lu, gynaecologic oncology and reproductive medicine chair at the University of Texas. “About 70 per cent of the time, if not more, we see women come to us with very advanced stage disease. What this study clearly shows is that with the CA125 test and the algorithm, we are detecting cancers at an earlier stage. And we’re seeing fewer deaths in women who get the screening. We’ve never had a study before that showed that early detection [of ovarian cancer] can save lives.”