According to a new trial, regular blood tests can detect 86% of ovarian cancers before the point at which women are normally diagnosed. This knowledge could lead to national screening.
The trial results were published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Ovarian tumors are generally deadly if they are caught in a late stage. Unfortunately ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnosis because the symptoms include abdominal pain; persistent bloating and difficulty eating are common in other conditions.
The trial lasted over 14 years and included more than 46,000 women. The results showed that 86% of cancers were picked up.
Although the first results of the trial suggest that tumors can be detected early, the University College London team cautions that it is still unknown whether more lives were saved.
Ovarian tumors release a chemical, CA 125, which is already used as a test if patients have symptoms.
The UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening performed annual blood tests on post-menopausal women across 13 NHS Trusts.
The team tracked changes in the levels of CA 125 over time and if the levels became elevated the women were sent to be additionally tested, including an ultrasound scan.
Previous studies have questioned the benefit of screening programs, however this trial was meant to produce a definitive verdict regarding the benefits.
The trial, the largest in the world, started in 2001 and the last blood tests occurred in 2011 therefore the first results are just coming through now. The early evidence seems promising.
The method of monitoring CA125 over time determines what a high level is for an individual woman. The personalized approach could also be useful in screening for other cancers.
This method appears to be twice as effective as previous attempts that just used the same cut-off value for all women.
In a few months when all the data is in, hopefully experts will have a definitive answer as to whether ovarian screening can save lives.