By the time ovarian cancer is typically diagnosed, the prognosis is bleak. About 7 in 10 cases are identified in late stages, when women have less than a 30% shot at long-term survival. But investigators at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston say that a biomarker in the blood--carbohydrate antigen 125, or CA125--offers a shot at a relatively low-cost approach to identifying the disease at an early stage, while the chances of survival are much higher.
The link between elevated levels of CA125 and ovarian cancer is well understood. In this study of more than 4,000 women, investigators tracked changes in the level of the protein each year over a period of 10 years, according to the Los Angeles Times. If the protein level jumped, the women were put into a higher-risk group and then tested every three months. If levels continued to increase, the women were assigned to a high-risk group and given a transvaginal ultrasound to see if there was a distinct need for exploratory surgery. A total of 117 patients were assigned to the high-risk group and 10 of them had exploratory surgery. Four of those women had early-stage ovarian cancer, one had endometrial cancer, two had nonmalignant tumors and three had benign cysts.
But the work is far from finished. Investigators are waiting for the results from a 50,000-patient study in the U.K., according to the BBC.
"Clinical practice definitely should not change from our study, but it gives us an insight--we didn't get a lot of false positives," researcher Dr. Karen Lu told the BBC. "There are two big questions--do we see cancers at an earlier stage and do we decrease the number of deaths."