The press was recently all a buzz about a new screening method that may be able to identify people at risk of ovarian cancer. Since I’m currently still on maternity leave I thought I should probably have a read about this before re-entering the world of work, and thought I’d share my findings with you all.
Ovarian Cancer is particularly nasty disease. It typically presents quite late, by which time the cancer can be fairly well established and treatment options are more limited. The main reason this happens is because the symptoms of ovarian cancer are very vague and insidious. There is no ‘lump’ to find or blood to see – so vague niggling symptoms can go unnoticed and unchecked for many months. An easy and quick test would be quite literally life saving for thousands of women, but as yet there is no such magic investigation.
The Ca125 blood test has been around for a long time and is what is known as a ‘marker’ for ovarian cancer. Unfortunately its not always that helpful a test, as it can be entirely normal in patients who have cancer, and can be elevated in patients without cancer. So although it’s often a helpful guide, it is not entirely reliable. For this reason the Ca125 blood test is usually used with some caution, and is completely unsatisfactory for a national screening programme.
However all this may change. Clever boffins at UCL have found a way to interpret the Ca125 test result more accurately – using additional bits of information and examining subtle fluctuations in the test. They followed up a massive 46,237 women for a 14 year time period and checked their Ca125 levels annually. They looked at how each person’s level of Ca125 changed over time and with age. From that were able to try and predict who was more likely to develop ovarian cancer. The study picked up 86% of cases of the disease, which is about twice as many as previous screening techniques.
So far, so good. As always with headline news stories there are a couple of questions that as yet remain unanswered. Firstly although the new test seems to be very good at detecting the cancer, it isn’t entirely clear yet if it actually makes a difference to prognosis. If it isn’t helping save lives it isn’t much help to anyone. Secondly the study was carried out on post-menopausal women, so this analysis and testing may not be as valuable in younger women.
Still, this is massive news and maybe in a few years going to have your annual Ca125 blood test will be as normal as attending for a mammogram or smear test. Here’s hoping…..
Hats off to the clever scientists.