No ovarian cancer screening planned despite test data - NCCP

Study lasting 14 years suggests yearly test could prevent 15 deaths in every 10,000

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar with National Cancer Control Programme director Dr Jerome Coffey at a programme launch earlier in the year.  File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar with National Cancer Control Programme director Dr Jerome Coffey at a programme launch earlier in the year. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

The National Cancer Control Programme says it has no immediate plans to introduce screening for ovarian cancer, despite new evidence that an annual blood test can reduce deaths from the disease by about 20 per cent.

British and Australian scientists carrying out the largest-ever trial on ovarian cancer have discovered for the first time that carrying out screening in women who are at risk can reduce deaths.

The 14-year study by the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening suggested a yearly blood test for levels of a particular protein could prevent about 15 deaths for every 10,000 women screened.

NCCP interim director Jerome Coffey said the conclusions of the study were interesting, but the findings were not clear or strong enough to justify a move to population screening at this stage.

Mr Coffey said he expected the research will prompt a lot of debate about the issue, but until further clarity emerged the emphasis in Ireland would remain on early diagnosis of the disease.

This included the promotion of greater awareness of symptoms and the need for prompt access to ultrasound and gynaecological appointments.

General test

Earlier this year, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar ruled out the introduction of general screening for ovarian cancer. The Cancer Antigen 125 test was unsuitable as a general test for the disease because it could lead to over-diagnosis and unnecessary investigations, as well as false reassurances, he said.

In Ireland, there are about 300 cases a year of ovarian cancer, which is usually diagnosed at an advanced stage, with 60 per cent of patients dying with five years of diagnosis.

More than 200,000 post-menopausal women were tested for the study for 14 years at 13 centres across the UK.

The study compared those who received no screening, those who were given a yearly ultrasound and those who received an annual blood test for levels of the protein CA125, with an ultrasound as a second-line test.

The study found that around 15 deaths could be prevented by the blood test for every 10,000 women screened. However, for every woman with a positive screening who subsequently received surgery and was found to have ovarian cancer, two did not.

The authors say whether or not population screening is justified will depend upon a range of factors including further follow-up to determine the full extent of the mortality reduction and health economic analyses.