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Ovarian Cancer Health Center

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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


Those two tests have been used together before, with disappointing results. But the current research differs in that it takes into account fluctuations in a woman's blood test results. The important thing isn't any single measure of CA-125 in the blood, but how it changes over time, the researchers said.

For the new study, published online Aug. 26 in the journal Cancer, the researchers recruited post-menopausal women between the ages of 50 and 74 who had no personal or family history of ovarian cancer. Women were screened, on average, for about four years.

Each year, women in the study were given a CA-125 blood test. Researchers fed the women's age and test results into a mathematical formula called Risk of Ovarian Cancer Algorithm, or ROCA, which was developed using a database of CA-125 test results from thousands of women in the United States and Sweden.

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.

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