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Screening for Ovarian Cancer Saves Few Lives

New Model Suggests Screening Less Useful Than Previously Thought

UK Trial Should Provide Some Answers continued...

Routine screening is not recommended for average-risk women.

Patricia Hartge, ScD, of the National Cancer Institute, tells WebMD that the Duke research adds to the evidence that more sensitive screening tests or strategies will be needed to significantly reduce deaths from ovarian cancer.

She says the U.K. study -- the largest ovarian cancer screening trial ever conducted -- should provide more answers when mortality data become available in 2014.

Instead of referring women for biopsy when CA-125 rises beyond a specific threshold, as researchers in a large U.S. trial did, investigators in the U.K. trial are watching to see how fast CA-125 levels rise.

“This approach involves fewer ultrasounds and fewer (exploratory) surgeries,” Hartge says. “We will know in a few years if it impacts survival.”

Havrilesky says she is cautiously optimistic that efforts to recognize ovarian cancer in its very early stages will help identify women who would benefit from prevention efforts such as surgical removal of the ovaries.

Until then, American Cancer Society Director of Cancer Screening Robert A. Smith, PhD says women should know the  symptoms that might be early warning signs of ovarian cancer, including:

  • Abdominal, pelvic, and back pain
  • Bloating and swelling
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms

Of course, these symptoms are also commonly associated with other, far less serious conditions. But Smith says women with daily symptoms lasting more than a few weeks should see their doctor.

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