Regular blood tests can detect 86% of ovarian cancers before the point at which women normally would be diagnosed, according to a trial that could lead to national screening. Ovarian tumours are often deadly as they are caught too late.

The first results of the 14-year trial of more than 46,000 women suggest tumours can be detected early.

However, the University College London team caution that it is still unknown whether more lives were saved. Around 7,100 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 4,200 die of the disease each year in the UK. The cancer is difficult to pick up as symptoms, including abdominal pain, persistent bloating and difficulty eating, are common in other conditions.

Blood clues

Ovarian tumours spew out high levels of a chemical called CA125, which is already used as a test if patients have symptoms.  It’s good, but the truth lies in whether we’ve picked up the cancer early enough to save livesProf Usha Menon, University College London

The UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening performed annual blood tests on post-menopausal women across 13 NHS Trusts. They tracked changes in the levels of CA125 over time and if levels became elevated then the women were sent for further tests including an ultrasound scan.

The trial results, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, showed 86% of cancers were picked up. Prof Usha Menon, from University College London, told the BBC News website: “It’s good, but the truth lies in whether we’ve picked up the cancer early enough to save lives, we hope we have. “There is no screening at the moment so we are awaiting the results before the NHS can decide. “Many people would have to be screened so it really needs to translate to lives saved.” The mortality data is expected in the autumn.

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