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Ovarian cancer screening

Women discussing ovarian cancer

This page is about screening for ovarian cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Ovarian cancer screening

Before screening for any type of cancer can be carried out, doctors must have an accurate test to use. The test must be reliable in picking up cancers that are there. And it must not give false positive results in people who do not have cancer.

At the moment, there is no screening test that is accurate and reliable enough to pick up ovarian cancer at an early stage. But there is a lot of research looking into this.

Screening women at higher risk

Higher than average risk means having 2 or more relatives on the same side of the family diagnosed with ovarian cancer or breast cancer at a young age, particularly if they were diagnosed before they were 50.

If you think you are at increased risk, you should talk to your GP. They can refer you to your local genetics service (family cancer clinic). You will have counselling about your options, which includes surgery to reduce your risk.
 

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About ovarian cancer screening

Screening tests particular groups of people to find cancer early, when the chance of cure is highest. Before screening for any type of cancer can be carried out, doctors must have an accurate test to use. The test must be reliable in picking up cancers that are there. And it must not give results that make it look as though someone has cancer when they do not (false positive results).

At the moment, there is no screening test reliable enough to use to pick up ovarian cancer at an early stage. But there is a lot of research looking into this. The 2 main tests researchers have been looking at are

CA125 blood test

CA125 is known as a tumour marker for ovarian cancer. A tumour marker is a chemical given off by cancer cells that circulates in the bloodstream. Women with ovarian cancer tend to have higher levels of CA125 in their blood than women who do not have ovarian cancer. But there are some problems with this test that make it unsuitable for use as a screening test on its own

  • Only about 85 out of every 100 women with ovarian cancer (85%)  have raised CA125
  • Only 50 out of every 100 women with early stage ovarian cancer (50%) have raised CA125
  • Women with other conditions can also have raised CA125

So you can see that if this test was used on its own, it would miss some cases of ovarian cancer. It would also pick out other women who did not have ovarian cancer. They would then need to have further tests, which could cause them anxiety and harm. We need to have another test that can reliably show who has ovarian cancer and who hasn't.

Researchers are looking for other possible tumour markers for cancer of the ovary. Doctors hope that by combining blood tests for markers they may be able to pick up more cancers and rule out people who don't have cancer more easily.

Transvaginal ultrasound

This is an ultrasound examination done by putting the ultrasound probe into the vagina. It gives a better picture of the ovaries than an ultrasound over the abdomen. Even so, it can still be difficult to tell whether there is a cancer on the ovary or just a harmless cyst.

There is no clear evidence so far that these tests can pick up cancers early and save lives. Doctors are waiting for the final results of 2 large UK trials to be published in 2015. These trials looked at ovarian cancer screening in the general population and those at high risk of developing it. There is information about research into screening for ovarian cancer in this section.

 

Women at higher risk of ovarian cancer

A higher than average risk for ovarian cancer means having 2 or more relatives on the same side of the family diagnosed with ovarian cancer or breast cancer at a young age, particularly under the age of 50.

If you think you are at increased risk of ovarian cancer, you should talk to your GP. They can refer you to your local genetics service (also called the family cancer clinic). They can assess you and may put you on the UK Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry. You will have counselling about your options, which includes surgery to reduce your risk.

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Updated: 8 May 2014