New Test Detects Early-Stage Ovarian Cancer

For the first time ever researchers have developed an effective strategy for detecting ovarian cancer in its early stages, and if confirmed in clinical trials it could be implemented as a routine screening for women.

For the study—published this week in the journal Cancer—researchers gave yearly blood tests to over 4,000 women over an 11-year period, recording levels of a protein called CA-125, which is produced by most ovarian tumors. Women who had sudden spikes in the protein were referred to a gynecologist and given an ultrasound. It turned out that four women in the study had ovarian cancer in its early stage, five others had ovarian tumors, and one woman had endometrial cancer. The study reported a specificity of 99.9%, meaning that only .1% would have been given a false negative.

The specificity rate of this new test is a big deal, because in order for a cancer screening to be considered successful, it has to be sensitive enough to detect the cancer at an early stage without producing false positives. A false positive for ovarian cancer is a real nut-twister because in order to confirm ovarian cancer, a surgery is needed to remove the ovaries and examine them. Nobody wants to perform unnecessary surgery, which is why there are currently no established screenings for ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer among women. It's particularly deadly because there are few distinctive symptoms in its early stages making it very difficult to detect until it's almost too late.

Image via Tinydevil/Shutterstock

Tracking yearly blood tests may reveal early-stage ovarian cancer [NBC News]