MAY 13, 2021 1:17 PM PDT

Ovarian cancer screening doesn't save lives, reports new study

New research published in the journal The Lancet highlights the eagerly awaited results of the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS). The UKCTOCS analyzed data from the more than 200,000 women who participated in the trial and were followed for an average of 16 years. The study’s main conclusion was that annual screening for ovarian cancer did not reduce deaths from the disease. 

The mission behind the UKCTOCS was to determine a screening method that consistently detects ovarian cancer at early stages when treatments are more likely to be effective. As is, ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed once the disease has already reached more advanced stages. 

"Ovarian cancer is so often diagnosed at stage 3 or 4 and shifting diagnosis one stage earlier makes a huge difference to both treatment options and quality of life. Earlier diagnosis will often reduce the amount and intensity of treatment, and this makes all the difference to women and their families who are living with cancer. It may have also given them more precious time with their loved ones," said Athena Lamnisos, CEO of The Eve Appeal. 

The women in the trial were randomly placed into three groups: no screening, annual screening using an ultrasound scan, and annual multimodal screening of a blood test and an ultrasound scan. The multimodal screening from blood tests on the participants identified 39% more cancers at an early stage (Stage I/II) and 10% fewer late-stage cancers (Stage III/IV), compared to the no screening group. Nevertheless, this detection ultimately didn’t mean saving more lives.

"UKCTOCS is the first trial to show that screening can definitely detect ovarian cancer earlier,” comments lead investigator of the trial, Professor Usha Menon. “However, this very large, rigorous trial shows clearly that screening using either of the approaches we tested did not save lives. We therefore cannot recommend ovarian cancer screening for the general population using these methods.” 

Professor Menon continues "We are disappointed as this is not the outcome we and everyone involved in the trial had hoped and worked for over so many years. To save lives, we will require a better screening test that detects ovarian cancer earlier and in more women than the multimodal screening strategy we used."

Yet, all is not lost says Professor Nick Lemoine, Medical Director of the NIHR Clinical Research Network. “It's important to note that negative results can be as important as positive. The study has provided important new evidence and insights into how to conduct and analyse future large-scale randomised clinical trials into ovarian cancer, in the hope that this will prevent and diagnose this disease more effectively in the future.”

Sources: The Lancet, Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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