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Published:March 13th, 2009 12:07 EST
Blood Tests May Help Detect Ovarian Cancer More Reliably

Blood Tests May Help Detect Ovarian Cancer More Reliably

By Christopher HIllenbrand

New tests including blood analysis, used in detecting ovarian cancer in women were found to be more effective in diagnosing the illness as much as two years before was thought possible. The finding was published in the British medical journal, Lancet Oncology, on Wednesday.


The scientific community has long sought after a better method in screening for the fatal disease that claims as many as 100,000 women around the world every year. When the cancer is found early, the survival rate is close to 90 percent. But as is common, most women with ovarian cancer go undiagnosed until the cancer has already spread. The survival rate for women with this later-stage form drops drastically to 30 percent or may fall even further.


Researchers may have found the solution to their dilemma with the study`s recent findings.


As a part of their scientific research, British doctors enlisted about 200,000 post-menopausal women between the ages of 50 and 74 across the U.K. from 2001 until 2005. Of the test subjects, 100,000 received no cancer screenings.


The other 100,000 volunteers were divided into two approximately equal groups. The first group of 50,000 women was subjected to blood analysis. If any of the women tested positive for any irregularities, then they took an ultrasound. The other group was only screened by ultrasound.


As a result of the blood tests, 38 from the first group of 50,000 were diagnosed with the cancer. On the other hand though, of those who only received the ultrasound, only 32 were found to have the disease. The statistics show that implementing the blood test beforehand resulted in an 89 percent success rate in recognizing the illness in time. Statistically, the test not including blood analysis had only a 75 percent success rate in detecting ovarian cancer.


In the experimental phase of the new treatment, doctors discovered almost half of the cancers diagnosed were still only in its early stages. These numbers were nearly unheard of before, as doctors would normally expect to find the disease in its earlier forms in 15 percent of cases.


Robert Smith, the director of cancer screening at the American Cancer Society, said he was "cautiously optimistic". Though Smith was in no way linked to the medical journal`s research, he spoke on his inherent skepticism over the purported breakthrough.


"This may make a difference to saving lives, but we don`t know that right now."


Smith also mentioned a well-known fact that some of the growths spotted in regular screenings are not of the malignant variety.


Since these experiments were not wholly conclusive, medical researchers must wait until their studies end in 2014 when all the necessary information should be collected to reach their judgment on the merits of blood testing.


Britain`s Medical Research Council funded the majority of the journal`s research with the rest of its grants being bestowed from various trusts like Cancer Research UK and the British Department of Health.


One of the heads of the ambitious project, Ian Jacobs, underlined the immensity of the study`s far-flung benefits should it be successful in its objective.


"Picking up cancer early is a prerequisite to saving lives. But the question is, is this early enough?"


 Jacobs is also the dean of health sciences research and director of the Institute for Women`s Health at University College London.


As a precaution, medical scientists also have to factor in the benefit-to-cost ratio to the patients that will have an impact in their lives. American Cancer Society`s Robert Smith echoed that concern.


"It`s a big and expensive jump to decide that (national) screening programs might be beneficial."


Another concern the medical community has to address is whether the lives saved by the new screening method will be worth the financial burden yet to be affixed to such a program. One problem with the previous way of detection was unnecessary surgical procedures that will undoubtedly be a predicament in whatever screening process the study deems the most beneficial.