A simple blood test could help diagnose ovarian cancer faster and more accurately, particularly in younger women, new UK research has found.
The study, conducted by scientists from the University of Manchester, University of Birmingham and University of Exeter, investigated whether a type of protein found in the blood, human epididymis protein 4 (HE4), could identify ovarian cancer more accurately than traditional diagnostic methods.
Currently, women with suspected ovarian cancer are tested for a protein called cancer antigen 125 (CA-125).
However, elevated CA-125 levels are not always linked to cancer, as they can be caused by conditions such as endometriosis and pregnancy.
The existing blood test used to investigate symptomatic patients is also less accurate in younger women, who account for almost 20 per cent of new ovarian cancer cases.
Researchers studied blood samples collected from 1229 primary care patients over a 1-year period. Analyses of HE4 levels, when carried out within an algorithm and alongside traditional CA-125 tests, significantly improved the detection of ovarian cancer, and allowed researchers to identify under-50s with ovarian cancer in 100 per cent of cases.
It is hoped that this new approach to testing could improve patient outcomes and prevent symptomatic women from undergoing unnecessary procedures, such as biopsies and invasive physical tests.
Dr Garth Funston, researcher and recipient of the World Ovarian Cancer Coalition’s inaugural Transformational Research Award, has welcomed the breakthrough.
Speaking of the study’s initial findings, he said “We hope our research can contribute to a change in how quickly ovarian cancer is identified. This is especially exciting as there has been little progress over the years towards developing more accurate ovarian cancer testing approaches for use in primary care.”
Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women in the UK, with around 7,500 new cases being diagnosed each year. Given that its symptoms – including digestive problems, bloating, back pain and fatigue – are non-specific, early diagnosis is difficult.
Women diagnosed with stage I ovarian cancer are more than 90 per cent likely to be alive five years after their diagnosis, but five-year survival rates plummet to 13 per cent for those diagnosed with stage IV disease.
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