Ovarian cancer test news is misunderstood
says gynaecological cancer charity The Eve Appeal
In light of recent media coverage following the introduction of new NICE guidelines on ovarian cancer, The Eve Appeal and UCL Gynaecology Cancer Research Centre are concerned that women are misunderstanding the advice recently reported on CA125 blood tests.
Says Robert Marsh, CEO at The Eve Appeal “ The CA125 is an existing blood test currently available on the NHS to patients who have, or are suspected of having, ovarian cancer. Our concern is that women’s perception of the NICE guidelines as reported in the media is that this is a new test available for £20 to women who want to check that they don’t have the disease. This is not the case.”
Under new NICE guidelines, one of the recommendations is that GPs and practice nurses should offer the CA125 blood test earlier, and in primary care, to women who have experienced one or more of the following symptoms for some time or if they occur frequently (ie more than 12 times a month), especially in patients over 50 years of age.
- persistent abdominal bloating
- difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- pain in the abdomen or pelvic area
- needing to pass water urgently or more often than usual
High levels of CA125 protein in the blood may indicate the presence of ovarian cancer however the readings can be raised in women with other conditions and even some healthy women have naturally high levels. An elevated level of CA125 does not necessarily mean ovarian cancer.
Professor Ian Jacobs, UCL Gynaecological Cancer Research Centre and Medical Director of The Eve Appeal comments “Only 1 in 500 women who have the symptoms above will actually have ovarian cancer.” Professor Jacobs also highlights “NICE estimates that only 1 in 157 women with abnormal CA125 and 1 in 26 women with an abnormal CA125 and ultrasound will have ovarian cancer. So for each woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer, a large number of women will have abnormal tests and some proceed to surgery with the risks that involves.
The CA125 blood test is therefore being investigated as part of Professor Jacobs’ ovarian cancer screening trials – UKCTOCS – to investigate whether or not the test, in combination with ultrasound, can pick up ovarian cancer early ie before the occurrence of symptoms.
The new NICE guidelines recommend that women with high levels of CA125 should then be offered an ultrasound scan of their abdomen and pelvis. If this scan suggests ovarian cancer they should be referred to a gynaecologist within two weeks.
“Although 4,600 women die from this disease in the UK each year, GPs may only see one case in five years so this is a major step towards moving ovarian cancer up the primary care agenda. By encouraging GPs act on these symptoms early, we hope this practice will lead to diagnoses of the disease at an earlier stage and help save lives.” Continues Robert Marsh of The Eve Appeal.
“As a gynaecological cancer research charity we have received calls from women wanting to know more about ‘this new £20 ovarian cancer test’. This is a worrying misunderstanding and one that we are keen to clarify.” says Robert Marsh.
“Our advice to women is to be aware of the signs and symptoms and to visit your GP if you have any concerns – for more information go to www.eveappeal.org.uk”
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