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Ovarian cancer hope

11 March 2009

Doctors discussing chart

Screening might help to detect ovarian cancer before symptoms develop, according to preliminary results published in Lancet Oncology.

The results include first analysis of screening for ovarian cancer currently being investigated by the UKCTOCS (UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening) trial, which includes research at Cardiff University.

The preliminary results from UKCTOCS show that in the first screen of the 100,000 women participating in the screening arms of the trial, ovarian cancer or borderline tumours were detected in 87 women and missed in 13 women who went on to develop the disease within a year of screening. Almost half (48%) of the 58 cancers detected were at an early stage.

Cardiff is one of 13 research centres taking part in the study across the UK, co-ordinated by University College London. Working with colleagues at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff researchers have screened more than 16,000 women

Mr Nazar Amso, of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the School of Medicine, Cardiff University, is leading the Cardiff contribution. He said: "This is the largest-ever trial of its kind into ovarian cancer. We are very grateful to all the women in Wales who have taken part so far. The trial still has five years to run and there is much to be done before we have firm evidence whether screening can detect ovarian cancer early enough to save lives."

Ovarian cancer is most common in women who have gone through menopause, and diagnosis is usually when cancer is already in the advanced stages. All of the 200,000 women recruited to the trial between 2001 and 2005 through the 13 regional centres were postmenopausal and aged between 50 and 74 years old. Following the initial screen, reported in this Lancet paper, women are continuing to be invited for further screening until 2011. Everyone will be followed up until December 2014.

Two screening methods are being used in the UKCTOCS trial: a blood test or an ultrasound scan. Dr Usha Menon, UKCTOCS trial co-ordinator and one of the principal investigators said: "The early results suggest that both types of screening can be used on a large scale and both successfully identify ovarian cancers. However, we must wait till 2015 before we can conclude whether or not a wider screening programme could lead to a fall in deaths due to ovarian cancer."

The UKCTOCS trial has been funded by the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK and the National Institute for Health Research and is supported by gynaecological cancer research charity The Eve Appeal.