Going through menopause increases the risk of develoing certain diseases. One of those is ovarian cancer, which can be very hard to detect until it's too late.
But there's good news! Researchers out of the M.D. Anderson Center in Houston have found that a simple blood test when combined with an ultrasound exam may allow doctors to identify ovarian cancer while it is still in a treatable stage. Currently there is no reliable screening test that detects ovarian cancer. Previous screenings have not proven accurate enough to use on a regular basis since they often produce a large number of false positive results. These false positive results cause doctors to perform invasive surgeries in order to rule out cancer.
This cancer is really rare. Approximately one in 2,500 American women who have gone through the menopausal transition will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. However, this type of cancer is the fourth-leading cancer killer among U.S. women. The American Cancer Society predicts that 22,240 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013; more than 14,000 are project to die from this disease.
This longitudinal study, which ran for 11 years, involved 4,051 participations. Most of these women were white and were between the ages of 50 and 74. They didn’t have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
The researchers grouped the participants into three categories – low risk, medium risk and high risk. The participants received follow-up testing at different times based on which group they were assigned. For instance, participants who were in the high risk group received a transvaginal ultrasound and also were referred to a gynecologic oncologist.
The M.D. Anderson researchers identified 85 women to be at high risk for this surgery through 2012. Ten of the participants had exploratory surgery; of those four had invasive cancer. Two of the 10 had borderline cancer and one had endometrial cancer. All of these cancers were identified early, thus resulting in a 40-percent accuracy of identifying invasive ovarian cancer. Three of the women who had surgery had benign ovarian tumors.
The researchers found that the two-stage screening method had almost a perfect rate of ruling out false positive results in these participants. Another study is being conducted in the United Kingdom on the screening methods. Preliminary results for the study, which involved more than 200,000, were promising. The results from that study are due to be published in 2015.
It’s important to know the risk factors related to ovarian cancer. The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF) lists six factors that may increase your risk of developing this type of cancer:
- Family history of cancer.
- Strong family history of cancer of the ovary or the breast.
- Personal history of cancer or endometriosis.
- Being over the age of 55.
- Never having been pregnant
- Taking estrogen hormone therapy for 10 years or more.
There are also five factors that decrease the risk of ovarian cancer. These include: