As It Happens

Ovarian cancer researchers disappointed after trial finds regular screenings fail to reduce deaths

A decades-long study on ovarian cancer has found that annual screening for the cancer did not ultimately reduce the number of deaths from the disease, says British researcher Usha Menon.

After working on this trial for years, Usha Menon says the results are 'quite disappointing'

A study that offered annual screening to more than 200,000 women did not find a reduction in ovarian cancer deaths. (CBC)

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A decades-long study on ovarian cancer has produced disappointing results, says a British researcher. 

Following more than 200,000 women for an average of 16 years, the randomized trial found that annual screening for the cancer did not ultimately reduce the number of deaths from the disease. The results were published this week in the journal The Lancet. 

"Our aim was to try and establish a screening programme for ovarian cancer like we have for cervical and breast cancer," said Usha Menon, lead investigator of the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS) and a professor of gynecological cancer at University College London. 

Menon told As It Happens host Carol Off that they divided their female participants into three groups: one that received yearly internal scans, one that received yearly blood tests and scans, and a third that received no scans or tests at all. 

Though the researchers were able to detect some cases of ovarian cancer earlier in the group that received blood tests, "it was not early enough" to make a difference, she said. 

"So when we followed up these women and last year we again analyzed the data, what we found was that the deaths due to ovarian cancer were the same in all three groups, despite us being able to pick up women earlier in the blood group," said Menon. 

That puts a full-scale population screening program for ovarian cancer further out of reach, but the team at University College London remains undaunted. 

"This is a setback, but not a defeat for those of us working in early detection of ovarian cancer," said Menon.

Professor Usha Menon says the study results are a 'setback,' but that her team will continue to look for ways to detect the deadly cancer earlier. (Usha Menon/University College London)

As researchers go back to the drawing board to look for a better test, she says focus should go to raising awareness of the earliest symptoms of the disease. 

"Persistent bloating is one of the key symptoms," said Menon, who notes that signs of ovarian cancer often go undetected or dismissed. 

She also says that though a regular screen may be years away, there have been considerable advances in treating what remains the deadliest gynecological cancer. 

Written by Kate McGillivray. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. 


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