New Screening Method Detects Ovarian Cancer at Earlier Stage

Ovarian cancer, the fifth leading cause of cancer, is diagnosed in more than 20,000 women annually. Until recently, it has been difficult to diagnose at an early stage, but a new screening method for this disease could detect twice the amount than existing methods.

The risk of ovarian cancer (ROCA) detection strategies has commonly used single-biomarker thresholds to identify abnormality. Usha Menon, MD, and colleagues at the University of College London investigated the impact of serial biomarker change interpreted through a risk algorithm on cancer detection rates. Researchers used a different algorithm to interpret changing levels in women's annual serum cancer antigen 125 (CA125) protein, which has a better rate of detection than standard methods, according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

In the United Kingdom Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening, 46,237 women, age 50 or older, underwent screening that measured (CA-125) to help determine the level of risk of ovarian cancer in each patient. Women were separated into three groups: normal risk (returned to annual screening), intermediate risk (repeat CA-125), and elevated risk (repeat CA-125 and transvaginal ultrasound).

The results were statistically significant. This new testing strategy gives a more accurate prediction of a woman's individual risk of developing cancer, compared to the conventional screening method which uses a fixed "cutoff" point for CA-125. The new method detected cancer in 86% of women with invasive epithelial ovarian cancer (iEOC), whereas the conventional test used in previous trials or in clinical practice would have identified fewer than half of these women (41% or 48%, respectively).

The researchers concluded that screening by using ROCA doubled the number of screen-detected iEOCs compared with a fixed cutoff. In the context of cancer screening, this is very exciting news for a hard-to-detect cancer.