Women at heightened risk for ovarian cancer, such as those with inherited genetic mutations or a family history of the disease, are normally advised to have their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed once they have finished having children. While this remains the recommended medical advice, new research suggests that one day, surgery may not be the only cancer-prevention choice for high-risk women. Several studies have shown that frequent screening for levels of the protein CA125 could one day be used to detect ovarian cancer early in women who opt to delay their recommended surgery.

Results from recent studies on ovarian cancer screening have shown that at-risk women who choose to delay or opt out of surgery to remove their ovaries and fallopian tubes could improve their chance of early tumor detection by having frequent blood screening for elevated levels of CA125, in addition to ultrasound examinations, when heightened levels are detected. In trials, this practice helped to increase the proportion of tumors detected at early stages from 10 percent to 50 percent.

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These findings are based on results from two studies; one led by Steven Skates, Ph.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital, and the other led by Mark Greene, M.D., of the National Cancer Institute. In total, the teams studied 3,800 women, and screened them for increased cancer risk by frequently checking CA125 levels, according to a release from Massachusetts General Hospital.

CA125 is a protein which is known to be raised in the blood of most women with ovarian cancer. According to MedicineNet, this protein is a biomarker of many ovarian cancer tumor cells. Although its function is not yet completely understood, this new research suggests CA125 may soon have a role as a diagnosis tool for women at high risk for the disease.

Ovarian cancer is one of the most deadly types, ranking fifth in cancer deaths among women, The American Cancer Society reported. The average woman has about a one in 75 chance of getting ovarian cancer within her lifetime, although this type of cancer is more common in white women than minorities.

The CA125 screening trials were not designed to measure whether screening reduced the deaths associated with ovarian cancer; of the 3,800 women involved in the research, 19 malignant tumors were identified over the course of the study periods. The researchers emphasize that CA125 sill does not replace surgery as a cancer prevention method, although the results are promising.

"It is important to note that removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes remains the standard of care when women at increased familial or genetic risk complete their families and reach an age when their risk exceeds that of the general population," study co-author Skates explained in a recent statement.

Source: Skates SJ, Greene MH, Buys SS, et al. Early Detection of Ovarian Cancer using the Risk of Ovarian Cancer Algorithm with Frequent CA125 Testing in Women at Increased Familial Risk - Combined Results from Two Screening Trials. Clinical Cancer Research . 2017

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