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New Hope for Early Detection of Ovarian Cancer

Blood test combined with ultrasound exam may help doctors catch the 'silent killer' early


If the results came back as low risk, women were asked to repeat the test the following year. Women with intermediate-risk results were told to have another blood test in three months, while those with high-risk results were referred for a transvaginal ultrasound exam, a pain-free test that lets doctors see the size and shape of the ovaries.

If the ultrasound results also were abnormal, women were referred to surgery.

Over 11 years, 83 percent of women remained at low risk and had to return only for an annual blood test. About 14 had at least one intermediate-risk result that caused them to return in three months for a follow-up test. Roughly 3 percent were deemed high risk and were referred for an additional ultrasound exam.

Ten of the 117 women referred for ultrasound exams had suspicious results and underwent subsequent surgeries. Of those, seven had some type of cancer, while three had benign tumors. Four of the patients had early stage cancers. All of the women are still alive and free of disease following treatment for their cancers.

One expert said these results, along with the early results achieved in the British trial, are very promising.

"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," Saslow said. "That's what we want to do."

Saslow pointed out that the study was small, however, and it had no control arm to help researchers see what would have happened to a similar group of women who were not screened over the same time period.

Whether the findings would apply to younger women or blacks and Hispanics also is unknown.


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