Health Team

Ovarian cancer screening methods tested

Posted June 8, 2011 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated June 8, 2011 6:50 p.m. EDT

Ovarian cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths among women. 

A blood test looking for high levels of the protein CA-125 might identify women with the disease, but it isn’t very sensitive.

“Some women can have ovarian cancer but still have normal CA-125,” said Dr. Saundra Buys, of the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Researchers studied 68,000 women between 55 and 74 years old who had no family history of ovarian cancer or symptoms.

Half of the women received annual CA-125 blood tests and transvaginal ultrasounds. The rest did not undergo the tests. 

"The women who had cancer turned out to have the same stage of cancer and were no more likely to be cured of cancer than women who weren't screened,” Buys said.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Ten percent of women who were screened had a false positive result and a third of them ended up in surgery.

“And 15 percent of the women who had surgery had a significant complication from the surgery,” Buys said.

Carol Tate, who took part in the study, is cancer free and has had no complications. She believes the information from the test will help women now and in the future.

"If some of the things they're doing don't show any difference maybe you don't need to do it,” Tate said.

Researchers don’t want women ignoring symptoms or catching them too late.

"We also don't want women to be so concerned about little symptoms that they end up going in for more testing than is necessary,” Buys said.

Women should be aware of new symptoms and tell their physician.

Some symptoms of ovarian cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating
  • Pelvic discomfort or pain
  • Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
  • Changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate
  • Loss of appetite or quickly feeling full
  • Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
  • A persistent lack of energy
  • Low back pain

Researchers say blood samples taken from study participants will now provide a whole panel of markers for future ovarian cancer research.