A study looking at ovarian cancer screening for women at high risk - The United Kingdom Familial Ovarian Cancer Screening Study (UK FOCSS)
This study looked at screening women who are at a high risk of developing ovarian cancer because they have a family history of ovarian or breast cancer, or they have family members with a known genetic change such as BRCA 1 or BRCA 2. This trial was supported by Cancer Research UK.
Over 7,000 thousand women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the UK every year. We know that women who have 2 or more close relatives with ovarian cancer or breast cancer may have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer themselves.
Some women at high risk of developing ovarian cancer have screening. But we don't know yet if screening is helpful or not.
The aim of this trial was to find out whether screening tests can pick up ovarian cancer at an early stage, before it causes symptoms and when treatment is more likely to be successful.
Summary of results
The research team found that most of the cancers diagnosed as a result of yearly screening were not early stage, and that it is important not to delay screening or treatment.
This trial recruited 3,563 women with an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. They had an increased risk either because they had a strong family history, or because they had a change (alteration) in a gene such as BRCA 1 or 2.
In total, 37 women were diagnosed with ovarian, fallopian tube or primary peritoneal cancer.
- 14 out of 37 women (38%) were diagnosed with stage 1 or 2 cancer
- 23 out of 37 women (62%) were diagnosed with stage 3 or 4 cancer
The research team found that the gap between screening tests made a difference to the stage of cancer at diagnosis. The results showed that women who had longer than a year between screening tests were more likely to be diagnosed with a more advanced cancer.
The research team think if it may be better to do screening tests more often, so they set up Part 2 of the trial in 2007 to try and find out. The women in Part 2 of this trial have screening tests every 4 months instead of once a year. We don’t yet know how well this will work. The research team are now following the women in this part of the trial and plan to publish results in the future.
The trial team concluded that screening once a year may not be often enough to detect early stage ovarian cancer in women at high risk of developing the disease, and that it is important not to delay further screening or treatment.
We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.
This is Cancer Research UK trial number CRUK/00/005.
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