The world’s largest research trial of its kind has today reported its final results, raising the prospect of a UK ovarian cancer screening programme at some point in the future. The UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS) was coordinated by University College London and involved 200,000 women, 13 test centres throughout the UK and ran over 15 years.
20 per cent reduction
In May 2015 the team released preliminary results about the performance of a new personalised CA125 blood test called ROCA which was used in one of the screening arms, although crucially this announcement did not address whether screening saved lives.
The UKCTOCS trial was only for women without symptoms of ovarian cancer and not at high risk of developing the disease due to a strong family history of either breast or ovarian cancer. Additionally, the trial was not assessing whether screening can be used to detect relapse in women who have already had ovarian cancer.
The final details of the trial were today published in The Lancet. Researchers say that the personalised blood test may help reduce the number of women dying from the disease by around 20 per cent, but stopped short of recommending that a screening programme for ovarian cancer would save lives. Not only was there not enough confidence that a screening programme would definitely impact mortality, but there are possible concerns around the number of women who would face unnecessary surgery or harm from surgical complications, which would need to be explored further.
National screening programme some way off
Researchers will now conduct a follow-up to the trial for three more years to establish the full impact of ovarian cancer screening. This means that the prospect of a national screening programme is still some years away.
Annwen Jones, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “The results of this landmark study, a milestone in ovarian cancer research, puts us in a stronger position in our collective quest for improving earlier diagnosis so more women can survive the disease.
“A national screening programme is unfortunately some way off yet, so it is even more vital that Target Ovarian Cancer stays focused on the vital work of raising awareness of symptoms with GPs and the public in order to diagnose women earlier.”
Importance of symptoms awareness
Lisa Arthurs, 26, a London-based supporter of Target Ovarian Cancer who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer five years ago, said: “Mine is a good news story, my cancer was diagnosed and treated quickly. All women should have the same chance which is why I am encouraged by today’s news. I think symptoms awareness is incredibly important and Target Ovarian Cancer’s work in this area is crucial.”
Professor Nigel Sparrow OBE, a senior national GP advisor to the CQC and chair of Target Ovarian Cancer’s GP Advisory Board, said: “All progress towards spotting more women earlier who have ovarian cancer is positive. While the results of the study are encouraging, as a GP it’s reassuring to know that Target Ovarian Cancer is committed to symptoms awareness. A third of GPs has now refreshed their knowledge with the charity’s online learning module.”
Recent statistics show that awareness raising work is beginning to have an impact. The percentage of women diagnosed through emergency admission has fallen from 32 per cent to 26 per cent, which means 400 fewer women every year diagnosed through A&E.
Joint event for patients
The news is being shared at two special events in London today: one for professionals and one for patients. The patient briefing has been jointly organised by The Eve Appeal, Ovarian Cancer Action, Ovacome and Target Ovarian Cancer. Lead investigators Professor Ian Jacobs and Professor Usha Menon are scheduled to speak along with Anne Mackie, the National Director of Screening at Public Health England, and the CEOs of each charity.
The charities jointly issued a statement: “We’re very pleased to welcome the results of the UKCTOCS study, which take us a step closer to the early detection of ovarian cancer and suggest that screening may be able to save lives in the years to come."
“In the meantime, The Eve Appeal, Ovacome, Ovarian Cancer Action and Target Ovarian Cancer will continue to work to improve the outlook for women with ovarian cancer through raising awareness, investing in research, campaigning and supporting those women whose lives are affected by the disease.”
Watch the stream from the patient event
This video stream was hosted by UCL events.
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