A NEW blood test could be used to diagnose ovarian cancer more efficiently, and may lead to reduced biopsies according to a new study carried out by researchers from the University of Manchester, UK. With ovarian cancer being the sixth most common malignancy in females in the UK, this study’s findings could be very promising for future diagnoses of this cancer. Around 7,500 new cases are reported every year and approximately one in five new diagnoses are in females under 50 years.
At present, a blood test is used to examine the level of protein CA125 in females suspected of having ovarian cancer. High levels of this protein could be a sign of cancer; however, it could also be due to other conditions, such as menstruation, pregnancy, uterine fibroids, or endometriosis. Nine out of 10 females who have high levels of CA125 and other additional tests do not have ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, some cases of ovarian cancer may be overlooked due to low levels of CA125, and this may mean that an ovarian cancer diagnosis is made much later, when the cancer is advanced. This new study presents a simple blood test that could assist general practitioners in precisely and quickly diagnosing ovarian cancer, especially in females under 50 years.
The researchers explored whether the human epididymis protein 4 (HE4), found in the blood, could precisely and quickly detect the presence of ovarian cancer. HE4 has been identified as a favourable biomarker in previous studies and is also approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to monitor cancer remission. This simple blood test would reduce unnecessary and invasive tests, including physical tests and biopsies. Blood samples from 1,200 patients were studied over a year, testing for HE4 and its diagnostic properties both alone and in combination with CA125. The results of the study showed that HE4 and the current CA125 test could enhance the identification of ovarian cancer, especially in females under 50 years.
“While our results require validation in a much larger sample, these findings are extremely promising. Ovarian cancer is notoriously difficult to diagnose at an early stage, as symptoms are often non-specific, including bloating, pain, and feeling full quickly after eating. We also know that the current blood test we use to investigate symptomatic females for ovarian cancer in primary care – CA125 – is less accurate in younger women,” said Garth Funston, Academic Clinical Fellow in General Practice at the University of Manchester. “We hope our research can contribute to a change in how quickly ovarian cancer is identified. This is especially exciting as there has been little progress over the years towards developing more accurate ovarian cancer testing approaches for use in primary care.”