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Blood tests detect ovarian cancer earlier

News has come out this week that 86% of ovarian cancers can be detected by blood tests.

While University College London is saying that this news needs to be treated with caution, nevertheless this is really exciting news.

Ovarian cancer is deadly – around 7,100 women are diagnosed with the disease every year and 4,200 die of this cancer every year.

This cancer has always been very challenging because in its early states it is very difficult to pick up, meaning that when diagnosis is finally made, the disease is already well developed.

Now a group of researchers who joined together as part of the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening has reported results which show that regular blood tests detect 86% of ovarian cancers before the point when the disease would normally be recognised.

The tests were based on tracking changes in the level of a chemical called CA125, which is produced at very high levels by ovarian tumours.

In the past this CA125 chemical has already been tested, but the tests also could have indicated other causes including fibroids, endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease. This latest screening method is far more precise.

Professor Usha Menon, UKCTOCS co-principal investigator and trial co-ordinator at UCL, who has led this 14 year trial, said that the results are very encouraging.

“They show that use of an early detection strategy based on an individual’s CA125 profile significantly improved cancer detection compared to what we’ve seen in previous screening trials,” he said.

“This is a significant achievement, but we need to wait until later this year when the final analysis of the trial is completed to know whether the cancers detected through screening were caught early enough to save lives.”

Like all cancers, the sooner the disease is picked up the better the prognosis. Early signs can include continual bloating, feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite; have pelvic or abdominal pain or need to urinate urgently and/or frequently.

According to the NHS, the risk of ovarian cancer increases with age, with most cases occurring after the menopause. More than 8 out of 10 cases of ovarian cancer occur in women who are over 50 years of age.

Women who take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have been shown to have a small increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. However, if HRT is stopped, after five years the risk is reduced to the same level as women who've never taken HRT.

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