New GP blood test could help diagnose ovarian cancer faster and more accurately, according to research funded by Wellbeing of Women

A simple blood test that can be given by GPs could help diagnose ovarian cancer faster and more accurately, particularly for women under the age of 50, according to research funded by leading women’s health charity, Wellbeing of Women.

The study, undertaken by Dr Garth Funston, Dr Chloe Barr and Professor Emma Crosbie from the University of Manchester, Dr David Jeelvan and Professor Sudha Sundar from the University of Birmingham and Dr Luke Mounce from the University of Exeter, investigated whether a type of protein found in the blood, human epididymis protein 4 (HE4), could help identify ovarian cancer more accurately and save other women from unnecessary and often invasive tests and procedures, such as physical examinations and biopsies.

The study has been published in the peer-reviewed journal, Cancers.

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women in the UK with around 7,500 new cases every year [1]. Almost one in five new diagnoses (18 percent) are in women under the age of 50 [2]. Currently, women with suspected ovarian cancer undergo a blood test to analyse the level of a protein called CA125 in their body. A high amount of this protein can be a sign of cancer, but it can also be caused by other conditions, such as menstruation, pregnancy, uterine fibroids and endometriosis.

Nine in 10 women with raised levels of CA125 in their blood, who are then subject to further tests, do not have ovarian cancer. Meanwhile, some ovarian cancers may be missed if levels of CA125 are too low. This can result in diagnosis occurring when the cancer is more advanced.

Researchers studied blood samples collected from 1229 patients over a 12-month period. Samples were tested for HE4 and the team investigated the diagnostic accuracy of HE4 alone and in combination with CA125. The study concluded that HE4 levels, when analysed alongside the current CA125 test and within an algorithm, could improve the detection of ovarian cancer, particularly in women under the age of 50.

A larger-scale study is now recommended to confirm these findings.

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