Can Population Screening prevent Ovarian Cancer?

Source: (National Cancer Institute) Unsplash

Ovarian cancer occurs when a tumor develops in one of the two ovaries of the female reproductive system. While the early stage tumor is easier to treat through surgery and chemotherapy, it rarely produces symptoms and goes unnoticed. Even the advanced stage produces only general symptoms: bloating, weight loss, pain, and constipation. Therefore, patients don’t think it’s anything serious.

Recently, a study published in The Lancet tried to determine if holding random population screenings could reduce the number of deaths caused by ovarian cancer. According to the study most ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed late leading to low survival chances. Therefore, screening could lead to early detection for some patients which may save their lives.

The research called the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS) included over 202 thousand women between the ages of 50-74 from England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and ran from 2001 to 2020. Two groups of women were assigned different types of ultrasound screening processes annually to determine which one was best. While one group remained unscreened. They also screened blood samples for CA125, the chemical marker for ovarian cancer.

Overall, the trial led to early detection in 39% more women and advanced stage detection in 10% more cases. However, 1206 women died during the trial.
The researchers concluded that the screenings did not decrease the incidence of the disease significantly enough to prove successful.

BBC News reports that Professor Usha Menon, the trial’s lead investigator said: “I was hoping there’d be something in this – it is disappointing news. It is about not giving up at this point – we have suffered a setback and need to get up and march forward again.”

New ways to diagnose Ovarian Cancer

While the researchers conclude that population screening is not the way to go with an ovarian cancer diagnosis, the samples they gathered during this study can be analyzed further. However, any further research would also mean similarly long trials.

According to BBC News, Professor Ian Jacobs of the University of South Wales said that “Realistically, this means we have to reluctantly accept that population screening for ovarian cancer is more than a decade away. This is deeply disappointing and frustrating given the hope of all involved that we would save the lives of thousands of women.”


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