While recent ovarian cancer screening research has given hope that detecting ovarian cancer in early stages could save lives, there is still no fully accurate interpretation of the results. Researchers need more time to determine whether early ovarian cancer detection can actually save lives, and until then, patients are left without the regular national ovarian cancer tests distributed to all women.
What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that affects women, and is not easy to diagnose if there are no visible symptoms. Its symptoms usually manifest at advanced stages, which causes high mortality rate in patients. Although it is a relatively rare condition (with incidence rate around 7300 in 100,000 women in UK in 2012), it is a condition that has a lethal outcome and the highest mortality rate of all gynaecological abnormalities combined.
Luckily, early diagnosis usually includes successful treatment and recuperation.
Who is in the risk group?
It is rather difficult to state who can or cannot be in the risk group, since cancer can affect virtually anybody. However, the known cases so far have narrowed down the list of potential patients in the risk groups, and those include:
- Family history, i.e. women whose family members suffered from cancer;
- Women who have had breast cancer, uterine cancer, or colono-rectal cancer;
- Women with a specific genetic mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes or one related to Lynch syndrome;
- Women over 50 years of age, or women over 25 with close relative’s cancer cases;
- Women with any unexplained symptoms of ovarian cancer.
What is ovarian cancer screening?
Ovarian cancer screening is a preventative measure, meaning women are tested for early cancer stages before they have any visible symptoms. It is based on assessing the size, shape and structure of uterus and both ovaries, looking for masses, fibroids, calcifications, polyps or cysts.
Ultrasound scans can be used to diagnose ovarian cancer at early stages, or for monitoring it once cancer is diagnosed. On the other hand, blood tests have recently shown a certain level of reliability in predicting ovarian cancer likelihood.
However, the problem with cancer screening in the UK is that there is no national screening programme, i.e. no national test, which makes it virtually impossible to detect cancer in patients before they have any symptoms.
What tests are available?
There is a steady research in the field of ovarian cancer screening and diagnosis, but two tests singled out as the most used ones. Those are CA125 blood test and transvaginal ultrasound.
CA125 is a product of some ovarian cancer cells. While CA125 blood test is a tumour marker which only shows if the CA125 level is higher than usual, it is not 100% percent reliable since increased CA125 level can result from other factors as well. When CA125 blood test is used as the only cancer test, some cancer cases could be missed out, while other patients could be falsely diagnosed with cancer. Both of these instances of mistaken diagnose should be avoided.
On the other hand, transvaginal ultrasound scan gives a better examination of ovaries than a regular non-invasive abdomen ultrasound, but is also relatively unreliable as it cannot differentiate between benign cysts and ovarian cancer.
Who should fund ovarian cancer screening?
The question that stirred the controversy recently is whether the NHS should provide preventative ovarian cancer screening to all women.
As the latest research has shown, detecting ovarian cancer at early stages can save lives, but the success rate is still unknown. For patients with risk factors, as the BBC reports, the recommended surgical removal of ovaries and Fallopian tubes usually causes premature menopause, which is why many women are reluctant in opting for it. Researches need more time to further test ovarian cancer screening reliability in saving lives, which means at least several more years before any clear results are obtained and transferred into regular health care practice.
Take control of your health yourself
Until ovarian cancer screening is made available nation-wide to all women, patients should simply take better care of themselves and, especially if they are in the risk group, have their regular screening in whatever way possible.
Private Ultrasound clinic offers exemplary care by providing their patients with numerous pregnancy and health scans, such as ovarian cancer screening. This type of ultrasound scan is usually a part of the well woman scans, checking not only your ovaries, but other pelvic functions and organs as well.
Ovarian cancer is a hidden health hazard to many women that manifests only when it is usually too late for treatment. Unfortunately, no preventative ovarian cancer screening tests are available on the NHS. Until research gives us clearer results, patients are recommended to pay attention to their bodies’ signals as close as possible and have their regular yearly scans for their own piece of mind, with surgical removal of ovaries and Fallopian tubes when ovarian cancer is diagnosed.