New Ovarian Cancer Screening Method Shows Promise

Researchers have developed a new screening approach that produces very few false positives in postmenopausal women with an average risk of ovarian cancer.

Researchers have developed a new screening approach that produces very few false positives in postmenopausal women with an average risk of ovarian cancer. While women at high risk for the disease may receive regular screening or even surgery to remove the ovaries, no widely accepted screening methods currently exist for average-risk women.

The new method uses an algorithm, based on a woman’s age, and results of an annual CA-125 blood test to estimate a woman’s risk. CA-125 is a protein that may be found in high amounts in women with ovarian cancer and is already used for screening and follow-up. However, past studies that merely use CA-125 levels to screen for the cancer have not been shown to improve outcome. This latest study, rather, uses a woman’s baseline CA-125 level and then tracks the rate of change over time.

Researchers followed more than 3,200 women between ages 50 and 74 for up to nine years. None of the women had a significant family history of breast or ovarian cancer. Women with rising CA-125 levels then received an imaging test called transvaginal ultrasound to look for tumors. If needed, a woman was then referred to a gynecologic oncologist to determine whether surgery was necessary. Each year, less than 1 percent of women in the study needed transvaginal ultrasound. In the end, eight women underwent surgery: three were found to have invasive early-stage ovarian cancer, two had borderline ovarian tumors, two had benign ovarian tumors, and one had no ovarian tumor but was later found to have endometrial cancer. No invasive ovarian cancers were missed, the investigators reported.

Before the screening method can be widely adopted, researchers said the approach needs to be validated in a larger group of women. A study is currently under way in the United Kingdom to test the screening approach in 50,000 women. The U.K. study will look at mortality as an endpoint, and results are expected in 2015.