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Two-Stage Test Might Be Effective for Ovarian Cancer Screening

Update Date: Aug 26, 2013 03:06 PM EDT

Ovarian cancer is one of the most lethal types of cancer for women. Even though ovarian cancer might not afflict as many people in comparison to other cancers, such as lung cancer, this type of disease is particularly dangerous due to the fact that early detection is rare. Women who get this disease often find out about it at a stage that is too late, cutting their survival rates. Now, a new study reports that a two-stage screening method might detect ovarian cancer in a more effective way than ever before.

Currently, there is no effective way of screening women for ovarian cancer. Many of the tests end up producing false positives that lead to invasive surgeries where the doctors find nothing cancerous. In order to detect this silent killer more effectively, researchers looked at the two-stage method in an 11-year long study that included over 4,000 women between the ages of 50 and 74. The two-part screening method involves using a blood test and then an ultrasound if needed.

In this study, the researchers took blood tests from all of the participants. By studying the levels of a protein called CA-125, which is shed by tumor cells, the researchers were able to categorize women into three sections: low-risk, intermediate-risk and high-risk. Women whose levels of CA-125 fell into the low-risk group received another blood test a year later. For women who were considered intermediate-risk, they got blood work done after three months. Women that were high-risk for ovarian cancer got an ultrasound. The ultrasound will look at the ovaries for signs of anything abnormal. The researchers noted that while doing bloodwork, it is important to study the levels of CA-125 and how CA-125 changes over time in order to determine one's risk for ovarian cancer.

Throughout this study, the researchers found that 83 percent of the women stayed in the low-risk group. Around 14 percent of them had at least one test that indicated intermediate-risk. The remaining three percent, which was made up of 117 women that were considered high risk got the ultrasound. Of the 117 women, 10 of them had something abnormal show up in the ultrasound and were advised to undergo surgery. All 10 received surgeries with seven of them having some kind of cancer while the other three had benign tumors. All of the women are currently alive and receiving treatment.

"[This new study] is a ray of excitement," said researcher Dr. Karen Lu, a professor of gynecologic oncology at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. "The important message is that this shouldn't change clinical practice right now. We don't have enough data."

"I was more excited reading this study than I have been in a really long time," said Debbie Saslow, director of breast and gynecologic cancers for the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. "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."

Although the study revealed very promising results, the researchers are still waiting for the results of another study that is currently underway in the United Kingdom. This study is evaluating the effects of the two-stage method in over 200,000 women.

"We really need to wait for the U.K. data before we're able to institute this as a screening method," Lu added according to HealthDay.

The study was published in Cancer

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