The new method, devised by researcher Karen Lu at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, appears to be highly specific for detecting the disease before it becomes lethal.
Almost 90 per cent of women who suffer from ovarian cancer are over the age if 40. Lu’s team studied 4,051 postmenopausal women over an 11-year period. The women underwent yearly blood tests, and the researchers recorded the levels of a protein called CA-125, which is produced by the majority of ovarian tumors. Women who had sudden increases in CA-125 levels were then referred to a gynecologist and were given an ultrasound.
Based on the ultrasounds, 10 women underwent surgery in which four had malignant ovarian tumors, one suffered endometrial cancer and three had benign ovarian tumors.
“The results from our study are not practice-changing at this time; however, our findings suggest that using a longitudinal (or change over time) screening strategy may be beneficial in post-menopausal women with an average risk of developing ovarian cancer,” Karen Lu said in a news release.
As there are currently no established screening strategies, ovarian cancer is highly lethal because most women have an advanced stage of the disease when they are diagnosed. When caught at an early stage, 75 to 90 percent of patients survive at least five years, the researchers said.
Lu’s team are awaiting the results of a larger and more randomised study currently being conducted in the UK, which is using the same screening technique. The results are slated for release in 2015.