A newly developed ovarian cancer screening method can reduce mortality by as much as 28%, researchers have revealed.
The study, which was published in the journal The Lancet on Thursday, December 17, was conducted by experts led by Ian Jacobs, president and vice-chancellor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
For a period of 14 years, the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS) was carried out by this team of scientists. Between 2001 and 2005, a group of 202,638 female participants, aged between 50 and 74, were included in the randomized controlled experiment, being assigned to one of three groups.
The subjects all had a medium risk of developing ovarian cancer, and approximately half were placed in a scientific control group, receiving no screening for this type of malignant tumor.
In contrast, around 50,000 of these women benefited from ultrasound scans on an annual basis, with the purpose of detecting potential abnormal growths, so as to eliminate them at an early stage.
The rest of the participants, also amounting to 50,000, received blood tests which measured their levels of CA125, a protein which is traditionally used as a biomarker for tumors, because its concentration increases especially in ovarian cancer cells.
While normally one single CA125 test may not be reliable in pronouncing a cancer diagnosis, since some women naturally have higher levels of this protein (over 35 microns/ml), if consecutive readings show an obvious rise in this amount then they may be indicative of the presence of a cancerous tumor.
Researchers analyzed results through the Risk of Ovarian Cancer Algorithm, and when they identified values above normal they referred the participants for subsequent examinations so as to confirm their suspicious and provide immediate treatment.
Study participants were monitored for an average period of around 11.1 years, ending in December 2014. By this time, a total of 630 cases of ovarian cancer had appeared in the control group, 347 women having died because of this condition.
By comparison, in the ultrasound category, there were 314 such verdicts, followed by 154 deaths. Lastly, in the group which received CA125 blood tests, 338 instances of ovarian cancer were diagnosed, resulting in 148 deaths.
By examining these figures, researchers discovered that screening methods had been successful in reducing cancer mortality: CA125 tests lowered the number of deaths due to ovarian cancer by around 15%, while ultrasounds diminished the risk of succumbing to this condition by approximately 11%.
While these results may not appear statistically significant, when study authors recalculated based on the premise that some women may have suffered from ovarian cancer from the very beginning of the trial, without realizing it, benefits were much more obvious.
Overall, researchers determined that for such patients the likelihood of dying as a result of their previously unidentified malignant tumor was reduced by up to 28%, thanks to CA125 screening.
However, as explained by Dr. Usha Menon, study co-author and head of the Gynecological Cancer Research Center at the UCL Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Institute of Women’s Health, these potential benefits must be more thoroughly examined.
Therefore, further research should be conducted, in order to provide more evidence regarding the actual real impact and cost-effectiveness of this new type of early detection for ovarian cancer.
Such a method could provide more hope for women suffering from this condition, especially since most ovarian cancers usually go undetected in the first stages, displaying no manifestations whatsoever.
Given that it takes a long time before this insidious and dangerous disease is diagnosed, many patients find out too late about their malignant tumor, which results in a grim 5-year survival rate, of just around 45%.
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