Blood Test May Detect Ovarian Cancer At Its Earliest Stages

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Ovarian cancer is treatable is detected early, but 70% of cases aren’t diagnosed until it’s too late. A promising blood test may change that.

Each year, about 20,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and about 14,000 will die from the disease. While 90% of those diagnosed early will be alive five years later, there is no reliable way of identifying abnormal growths in the ovaries, leading to later detection, when the cancer has spread to other tissues and survival rates typically drop to about 30%.

That’s why researchers are excited about the latest results, published online in the journal Cancer, from a blood test that could detect the first signs of ovarian cancer. For 11 years, scientists from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston studied just over 4,000 post-menopausal women who were screened for changes in a blood protein called CA125, which serves a biomarker for tumors. While this protein has been used before to predict ovarian cancer, the results haven’t been reliable, since researchers frequently relied on just one test result. In the current study, the scientists repeated the test and compared the readings; the changing levels of CA125 told a more consistent story about the women’s risk of developing ovarian cancer.

(MORE: Screening for Ovarian Cancer Doesn’t Increase Women’s Survival)

All women received an initial CA125 test, and based on their age and those results, they were split into three groups: low, intermediate and  high risk. Those considered low risk received another CA125 test a year later. The intermediate group had another CA125 test only three months after their first, and the high risk women received a transvaginal ultrasound and were referred to an oncologist.

Over the 11 years, the strategy was 40% accurate in predicting the presence of ovarian cancer, and in identifying cancer early. Even more promising was its 99.9% specificity, which means there was an extremely low risk of false-positive results.

(MORE: How Height is Connected to Cancer)

Although very encouraging, however, the test is not quite ready for the clinic. The research team is waiting for the results of a similar study in the UK that in which more than 200,000 women are being screened using the same algorithm. “If the results of this study are also positive, then this will result in a change of practice,” study author Dr. Karen Lu said in a statement.

Understanding how changing CA125 levels reflect risk of cancer is an important breakthrough that could shift the diagnosis of ovarian cancer much earlier, to a stage when interventions with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or medications are more effective. “I was more excited reading this study than I have been in a really long time,” Debbie Saslow, director of breast and gynecologic cancers for the American Cancer Society said to HealthDay. “Not only was [the screening] finding cancers in both of those studies, but it was finding them early. That’s what we want to do.”

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35 comments
AAKDJ
AAKDJ

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letianmoon
letianmoon

At least 15,000 women die each year from ovarian cancer.In the United States, about 1 in 56 women develops cancer of the ovary. More than 26,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.We should pay more attention this disease.


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Olivia44098
Olivia44098

@robertaheale I wonder if, over time, this will go the way of the PSA screen, where, in some provinces the lab fee is now paid by the Lt.

agingwellcanada
agingwellcanada

@robertaheale this is great news! mom had a scare with this recently, we're still not totally in the clear yet. thanks for this info

mario51obs
mario51obs

@TIMEHealthland cáncer de ovario se detecta tardíamente. Un nuevo test puede diagnosticarlo en etapas teranas

NORMA
NORMA

INTERESTINGLY, THERE IS NO MENTION of the TEST DEVISED by a 15 YEAR OLD, JACK ANDRAKA, ABLE TO DETECT AT EARLIEST STAGES  THREE PERNICIOUS FORMS of CANCER- PANCREATIC, OVARIAN & LUNG CANCERS ! 

 HIS TEST UTILIZES CARBON NANOTUBES & COSTS ABOUT 3 CENTS. IT IS SENSITIVE TO BLOOD or URINE. ANDRAKA HOPES TO SEE HIS IN-HOME TEST KITS AVAILABLE AT LOCAL WALMARTS, DRUG STORES, etc.. HOPEFULLY, THE FDA WILL SEE FIT TO FAST TRACK THIS TESTING DEVICE THAT COULD LITERALLY SAVE TENS OF THOUSANDS OF LIVES EACH YEAR!!! PERHAPS REGULAR CITIZENS COULD PETITION CONGRESS & the FDA to EXPEDITE THIS STARTLING INNOVATION by XMAS?!?!?! WHAT A WONDERFUL GIFT IT WOULD BE TO COUNTLESS AMERICANS EVERYWHERE!!!

acanand
acanand

Sorry I meant to say that a specificity of 99.9% alone does not make it a good screening test.

acanand
acanand

I have not read the research paper, but from the article it says the test as a screening test, and they have not given the sensitivity of the test. Sensitivity is more important (to be very high say around high 90s) than specificity for a screening test. The specificity of this test of 99.9% does not make it a good screening test for use in general population. I will try to read the article and give more information later.

AllieToner
AllieToner

I like the idea of taking a baseline blood test, and then taking an annual blood test thereafter to look for a spike.  I had NO symptoms except the slightest bloating and...the week I lost my appetite I knew to go to the doctor because something was wrong.  But by that time I was already into Stage IIIc.  A year and a half later, I have metastatic disease...bleh! 

Let's detect this rotten cancer as early as possible!!!

helenawh88
helenawh88

@TIME @TIMEHealthland Thus our body attacks it: triggers a no control multiplication of cells.Not even calves drink milk after a certain age

helenawh88
helenawh88

@TIME @TIMEHealthland Most of the ovarian, breaat cancer R de to Dairy consumption.Milk´s main protein casein´s similar to our mother´s (+)

blog_supplement
blog_supplement

@menkris CA-125 :-) seeing it could not resist this bit of trivia: is the 2nd longest human protein at a whopping 22152 amino acids