Used together, a blood test and an ultrasound scan may be effective in detecting ovarian cancer in its early and more curable stages, British researchers report.
The two-step detection method could become a new standard in the fight against this deadly and hard to spot malignancy, experts say.
“It appears to be an approach that may be workable,” said Robert Smith, director of cancer screening at the American Cancer Society.
The report was published in the March 10 online edition of The Lancet Oncology.
Experts note that, when found early, ovarian cancer is 90 percent curable. But early detection is often impossible, because the disease causes few or no symptoms as it begins. For that reason, 70 percent of cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed when the cancer has already reached an advanced stage.
In these later stages, the survival rate drops to only 20 percent to 30 percent. For that reason, scientists and doctors have long sought an effective early screening test.
The new study was led by Dr. Usha Menon, head of the Gynaecological Cancer Research Unit at University College London. The team randomly assigned almost 203,000 postmenopausal women to either no ovarian cancer screening or to screening with transvaginal ultrasound plus a blood test that finds a marker for ovarian cancer, called CA125. A third group was screened using transvaginal ultrasound alone.
Between 2001 and 2005, the researchers uncovered 87 ovarian cancers. The specificity of the tests was best in the combined screening group. In that cohort, fewer retests were needed and almost ninefold fewer surgeries were required, the researchers noted.
The team found that screening was able to identify most women with cervical cancer. The combination of the blood test and ultrasound found 90 percent of the cancers, while ultrasound alone found 75 percent of the cancers.
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