Simple blood test may detect ovarian cancer early

Researchers find out that CA-125 protein may help detact ovarian cancer in its early stage. The findings were presented by Karen Lu, M.D., professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Gynecologic Oncology, in advance of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting.

Evaluating its change over time, CA-125, the protein long-recognized for predicting ovarian cancer recurrence, now shows promise as a screening tool for early-stage disease, according to researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

If a larger study shows survival benefit, the simple blood test could offer a much-needed screening tool to detect ovarian cancer in it early stages – even in the most aggressive forms – in post-menopausal women at average risk for the disease.

MD Anderson has a long history in the research of the important biomarker. In the 1980s, Robert Bast, M.D., vice president for translational research at MD Anderson and co-investigator on the ASCO study, discovered CA-125 and its predictive value of ovarian cancer recurrence. Since then, researchers at MD Anderson and beyond have been trying to determine its role in early disease detection. The marker, however, can become elevated for reasons other than ovarian cancer, leading to false positives in early screening.

“Over the last ten years, there’s been a lot of excitement over new markers and technologies in ovarian cancer,” said Lu, the trial’s principal investigator. “I and other scientists in the gynecologic oncology community thought we would ultimately find a better marker than CA-125 for the early detection of the disease. After looking at new markers and testing them head-to-head in strong, scientific studies, we found no marker better than CA125.”

According to the American Cancer Society, 21,550 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009 and another 14,600 died from the disease. The challenge, explained Lu, is that more than 70 percent of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed with advanced disease.

“Finding a screening mechanism would be the Holy Grail in the fight against ovarian cancer, because when caught early it is not just treatable, but curable,” said Lu.

The study is continuing; and, as follow-up, Lu and her team plan to look at combining other markers with CA-125 to determine the screening impact of their combined change over time.

The study was supported by the National Cancer Institute, and was a research project of MD Anderson’s ovarian cancer Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE). It has also received philanthropic funds from Golfers Against Cancer, The Jane P. and Wiley L. Mossy Jr. Foundation, the Tracy Jo Wilson Ovarian Cancer Foundation, and the Norton Fund.

Source: University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, USA



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