A new study in the UK suggests that screening for ovarian cancer could offer major benefits in terms of early detection, and potentially lead to 20% fewer deaths from the disease a year.
This ground-breaking 14-year study involved 200,000 women in the UK, and was recently published in the British medical journal the Lancet.
Despite the apparently good news, both the researchers and independent experts warn it is too early to call for mass ovarian cancer screenings until there is other data confirming the results.
Keep in mind that ovarian cancer is difficult to detect because symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating and problems with eating, are also commonly caused by other conditions.
More on new UK study of ovarian cancer screening
The UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening is a huge clinical trial, and was designed to give the final verdict on the value of screening, but it turned out the results were not that clear cut. The studied examined levels of chemical marker CA125 in the women’s blood.
The researchers monitored changes in the levels of CA125 (which is produced by ovarian tissue) over time, and if levels moved up, then the women were sent for further testing and surgery in most cases.
However, the data from the study were not quite what was expected, and required interpretation which the researchers freely admit is “controversial”.
The initial statistical analysis of the data showed no statistically significant benefit to the screening procedure. However, there was a notable survival benefit when they removed any women who may have already started to develop ovarian tumors from the data.
Moreover, when the team analyzed the data using a less accurate statistical method, a statistically significant benefit was also found.
Principal investigator Prof. Usha Menon noted in an interview with BBC: “Is there clear evidence? I would say no.
“We don’t have clear evidence to go ahead with screening, but what we have are really encouraging estimates of around a 20% reduction, which we need to confirm.”
The reseachers also highlighted that almost all of the benefit to screening seems to be delayed, that is it kicks in towards the end of the trial.
Therefore, the team will continue to monitor the patients for at least another another three years to try and confirm there is a benefit.