New way of testing for ovarian cancer not as promising as researchers think

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Ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose before it progresses, and thus far there are no effective ways to screen women for it. However, a new method may help detect the disease in its early stages, but is it really worth it?

In a new study, researchers screened for levels of a protein called CA-125, which is produced by the majority of ovarian tumors. The study showed promising results, but researchers do not believe there is enough evidence to change clinical procedures at this time. The investigators followed more than 4,000 women over an 11-year period. Ten women who had sudden increases in the levels of CA-125 in their blood were then examined by ultrasound. Four of those women had ovarian cancers which were still in an early stage, five had either benign or low risk tumors, and one woman had endometrial cancer.

However, the study focused on a fairly small group of postmenopausal white women and researchers believe a larger, more reflective study will be needed to determine whether changes in clinical practice are advisable.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross had a different take. Doing the calculations, 4000 women had yearly CA-125 levels checked over 11 years. That amounts to 44,000 expensive lab tests. And then what happened? Ten women had surgery, Six of them had unnecessary surgery. Out of 4,000 women over 11 years, seven maybe had a benefit. To say that this is not practice-changing at this time, as the authors report, is an understatement. In order for something to be practice-changing, researchers will have to find a test that is much more clear-cut, and perhaps would be as predictive if done even every two to three years instead of annually. This test seems worse to me than the PSA.