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Ovarian Cancer Could be Detected Much Earlier with Future Screening Test

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According to a new study published in the journal Cancer, researchers have managed to develop a new screening approach for ovarian cancer, which could possibly lead to an earlier detection of the disease.

Researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston have created a "two-stage" ovarian cancer screening strategy that measures fluctuations in a blood protein called CA125, a protein known as an indicator for tumors.

Researches believe that if this new screening strategy comes to fruition and is implemented across medical platforms, it could help save the lives of thousands of women.

The study, which was carried out over an 11 year period, examined and analyzed 4,051 post-menopausal women. All women received a yearly CA125 blood test at the baseline of the study.

The researchers then used a calculation method called the "Risk of Ovarian Cancer Algorithm" to separate the women into three groups, which were:

1-    Women who should receive another CA125 test 1 year later (low risk)

2-    Women who should receive a repeat CA125 test in 3 months (intermediate risk)

3-    Women who should receive a transvaginal ultrasound and be referred to a gynecologic oncologist (high risk).

Results of the screening demonstrated that, on average during every year of the study, around 5.8% of the women were found to be at an intermediate risk.

About 0.9% of the women were to receive a transvaginal ultrasound and review by a gynecologic oncologist annually. From this, ten of the women required surgery.

Four of the women had invasive ovarian cancers, while two women had ovarian tumors of "low malignant potential," one had endometrial cancer, and three had benign ovarian tumors. 

The researchers claim that these findings illustrate a "positive predictive value of 40% for predicting invasive ovarian cancer."

“The specificity of the screening method was 99.9%. This means that the percentage of patients who could be falsely identified as having the cancer would be just 0.1%,” they noted.
In addition, researchers also claim that such findings reveal that the new screening strategy achieves "high specificity with very few false-positive results" in post-menopausal women.

"The results from our study are not practice-changing at this time. However, our findings suggest that using a longitudinal (or change over time) screening strategy may be beneficial in post-menopausal women with an average risk of developing ovarian cancer,” said University of Texas and lead author of the study, Dr. Karen Lu.

Lu also mentioned she and her team are awaiting another study’s results of a bigger randomized UK study that implements the same "Risk of Ovarian Cancer Algorithm" method in a similar population of women.

"If the results of this study are also positive, then this will result in a change in practice," she said.

Yet healthcare projects manager at Ovarian Cancer Action in the UK, Abi Begho contends that this new screening approach may not be fully accurate in detecting the sensitivity of ovarian cancer.

"While the specificity of this screening strategy is very good, the research was not designed to detect sensitivity. They did measure the sensitivity to be 60%, so there is room for improvement, but the researchers did note that no cases of invasive ovarian cancer were missed so the sensitivity could be better than actually reported,” said Begho.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there will be about 22,240 new cases of ovarian cancer in the US this year, approximately resulting in 14,030 deaths.

For the time being, there are no effective methods for detecting ovarian cancer in its early stages. One issue is that early symptoms of ovarian cancer, such as abdominal pain and feeling bloated and full, are sometimes mistakenly diagnosed as other problems. Because of this, the majority of women are diagnosed when they are in the late stages of the disease.


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