Ovarian cancer: The quest for a test

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Could a test for the disease be on the horizon?

Ovarian cancer: The quest for a test

Source: Best Health Magazine, September 2010

There is no effective screening method for ovarian cancer, but a blood test, CA-125, holds some promise.

Currently in Canada, it’s used for women undergoing ovarian cancer treatment to measure how well the patient is responding. But it’s not a good screening tool because it results in too many false positives if other cancers, pregnancy, endometriosis or inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s or appendicitis are present. The good news is that a ton of research is going into developing the test as a more reliable ovarian cancer’screening tool.

The Signs

Often called the "silent killer," the disease’s symptoms are vague: feeling ‘of fullness, fatigue, abdominal discomfort, backache, weight loss, gas, bloating and pain during intercourse.

A study published in the Journal ‘of Clinical Oncology found that the CA-125 blood test was more effective in detecting ovarian cancer when used with three other cancer marker tests (HE4, CEA and VCAM-1). And a study of 200,000 women is underway in the United Kingdom on the CA-125 blood test along with other markers. The results are expected by 2015.

Dr. Laurie Elit, a gynecologic oncologist and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at McMaster University, is confident that this research could affect screening and treatment for ovarian cancer. "Everyone always wants the magic bullet," she says. "The CA-125 is a great test, as it’s currently being used, but we need to figure out the best way to implement it and manage it for screening."

Want to get involved?

On September 12, the Winners Walk of Hope, a fundraiser walk for Ovarian Cancer Canada, is taking place in Comox Valley (B.C.), Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Barrie (Ont.), Toronto, Windsor (Ont.), Ottawa, Montreal, Moncton, Halifax and St. John’s. For more information, go to ovariancanada.org.