Researchers make headway in ovarian cancer detection, reports Harvard Women's Health Watch

Published: April, 2010

When it comes to ovarian cancer, silence can be deadly. About three-quarters of ovarian cancers are diagnosed after the cancer has quietly spread to other parts of the body, making treatment difficult. Researchers are slowly making headway in developing tests to identify ovarian cancer in its earlier, treatable stages, reports the April 2010 issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch.

Detecting ovarian cancer early is tricky for many reasons. The ovaries are difficult to feel during a pelvic exam, making early-stage tumors hard to spot on a routine exam. Ovarian cancer doesn't start with any known precancerous lesion. And while ovarian cancer may produce telltale chemicals, such as cancer antigen 125 (CA-125), no biomarker specific to ovarian cancer has yet been identified. Taking ultrasound images of the ovaries via the vagina could potentially spot early ovarian tumors, but most ovarian tumors aren't cancerous, and surgery is the only way to tell if a suspicious growth is cancerous or benign. Two trials are under way to find out if screening with ultrasound plus CA-125 testing improves survival, but the final results aren't expected for several years.

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