2011 ASCO: Screening With CA-125 & Transvaginal Ultrasound Does Not Reduce Ovarian Cancer Death Rate, Results in High Number of False Positives

Findings from a large, long-term study – the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Screening Trial – showed that using a CA-125 blood test and transvaginal ultrasound for early detection of ovarian cancer did not reduce the risk of dying from the disease, and resulted in a large number of false positives and related follow-up procedures.

ASCO Releases Studies From Upcoming Annual Meeting – Important Advances in Targeted Therapies, Screening, and Personalized Medicine

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) today highlighted several studies in a press briefing from among more than 4,000 abstracts publicly posted online at http://www.asco.org in advance of ASCO’s 47th Annual Meeting. An additional 17 plenary, late-breaking and other major studies will be released in on-site press conferences at the Annual Meeting.

The meeting, which is expected to draw approximately 30,000 cancer specialists, will be held June 3-7, 2011, at McCormick Place in Chicago, Ill. The theme of this year’s meeting is “Patients. Pathways. Progress.”

“This year marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of the National Cancer Act, a law that led to major new investments in cancer research. Every day in our offices, and every year at the ASCO meeting, we see the results of those investments. People with cancer are living longer, with a better quality of life, than ever before,” said George W. Sledge Jr., M.D., President of ASCO, Ballve-Lantero Professor of Oncology and professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

“With our growing understanding of the nature of cancer development and behavior, cancer is becoming a chronic disease that a growing number of patients can live with for many years,” said Dr. Sledge. “The studies released today are the latest examples of progress against the disease, from new personalized treatments, to new approaches to screening and prevention.”

The study results from a large clinical trial involving ovarian cancer screening were highlighted in today’s press briefing as summarized below.

Screening with CA-125 and Transvaginal Ultrasound Does Not Reduce Ovarian Cancer Death Rate, Results in High Number of False Positives

A randomized, multicenter screening study of nearly 80,000 women in the general population showed that using a CA-125 blood test and transvaginal ultrasound for early detection of ovarian cancer did not reduce the risk of dying from the disease, and resulted in a large number of false positives and related biopsies and follow-up procedures. The results indicate that while these tests are widely and appropriately used to evaluate symptoms, and to gauge disease status and effectiveness of treatment in women already diagnosed with ovarian cancer, they are not useful in screening the general population.

Saundra S. Buys, M.D., Medical Director, Huntsman Cancer Institute’s High Risk Breast Cancer Clinic; Professor, Depart. of Internal Medicine, Univ. of Utah School of Medicine

“There hasn’t been a good method for the early detection of ovarian cancer, and our hypothesis was that CA-125 and transvaginal ultrasound, which are useful in measuring disease, would also identify ovarian cancer early, at a stage in which it is more likely to be cured,” said lead author Saundra Buys, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Utah and Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City. “The results were disappointing, but not necessarily surprising. The study shows that the available tests are not effective and may actually cause harm because of the high number of false positives. These results point to the continued need for more precise and effective screening tools for this disease.”

In the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial, 78,216 women ages 55 to 74 were assigned to either annual screening (39,105 women) or usual care (39,111 women) between 1993 and 2001. Women in the screening arm were offered annual CA-125 testing for six years and transvaginal ultrasound for four, and followed for up to 13 years. Those in the usual care arm were not offered the screening tests.

The results showed no statistically significant difference in ovarian cancer cases or mortality between the two arms. Ovarian cancer was diagnosed in 212 women in the screening group arm compared to 176 in the usual care arm; 118 women in the screening arm died from ovarian cancer, while 100 died from ovarian cancer in the usual care group.

Among women in the screening arm, there were a high number of false positives – 3,285 false positives, compared to just 212 true positives. Of women who had a false positive test, 1,080 underwent surgery for biopsy – the procedure generally required to evaluate positive test results; 163 of them had serious complications.

The authors emphasized that the study results don’t apply to screening women with symptoms or abnormal findings on physical examination. [emphasis added] Physical examination based on symptoms and appropriate follow-up testing remains the best available approach for ovarian cancer detection.

[Note: This summary contains updated data and a correction from the original abstract. Correction:  Of the 3,285 women who received a false positive exam, 1,080 underwent surgery. Of those surgical patients, 163 encountered at least one serious complication.]

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ASCO Releases Studies From Upcoming 2010 Annual Meeting

Yesterday, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) made available more than 4,000 medical abstracts which are publicly posted online at http://www.abstract.asco.org. A hyperlink to the 2010 ASCO Annual Meeting ovarian cancer abstracts is provided below.  The ASCO Annual Meeting will be held June 4-8, 2010 at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois.

The 2010 ASCO Annual Meeting will be held June 4-8, 2010 at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois.

Yesterday, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) highlighted six studies in a press briefing from among more than 4,000 abstracts publicly posted online at www.abstract.asco.org in advance of ASCO’s 46th Annual Meeting.  An additional 14 plenary, late-breaking and other major studies will be released at the Annual Meeting and highlighted in on-site press conferences.

The meeting, which is expected to draw approximately 30,000 cancer specialists, will be held June 4-June 8, 2010, at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois. The theme of this year’s meeting is “Advancing Quality Through Innovation.”

“Our growing understanding of cancer’s complex behavior is being translated into better, more targeted drugs against a variety of tumors,” said Douglas W. Blayney, MD, President of ASCO, professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School and medical director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Michigan. “These studies show that investment in cancer research pays off. We’re developing more personalized approaches to treating patients of all ages and across all cancer types, we’re learning how to use current treatments more effectively, and we’re identifying new ways to help patients live long, healthy lives following treatment.”

“Clinical trials are essential to continued progress against cancer. Yet, the nation’s federally funded clinical trial system is at a breaking point,” said George W. Sledge Jr, MD, ASCO President-Elect, Ballve-Lantero Professor of Oncology and professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine. “ASCO has called for a doubling of support for federally funded clinical cancer research within the next five years. We’ve made impressive strides against this disease, and it’s vital that the nation put more resources into these programs to continue the momentum.

Relevant studies highlighted in the May 20th press briefing include:

  • Promising New Ovarian Cancer Screening Strategy Developed for Post-Menopausal Women at Average Risk: A promising new screening approach for post-menopausal women at average risk of ovarian cancer is feasible and produces very few false-positive results. The method uses a mathematical model combining trends in CA-125 blood test results and a patient’s age, followed by transvaginal ultrasound and referral to a gynecologic oncologist, if necessary.
  • Yoga Improves Sleep and Quality of Life, Lessens Fatigue for Cancer Survivors: Sleep problems and fatigue are among the most common side effects experienced by cancer survivors. A four-week yoga program involving breathing, meditation, postures and other techniques helped cancer survivors sleep better, reduced fatigue and the use of sleep aids, and improved their quality of life.

If you are interested in reviewing the medical abstract subject listing, CLICK HERE.

If you are interested in reviewing the ovarian cancer medical abstracts, CLICK HERE.

Source: ASCO Releases Studies From Upcoming Annual Meeting — – Important Advances in Targeted Therapies, Screening, and Quality of Life, News Release, American Society of Clinical Oncology, May 20, 2010. For a complete PDF copy of the ASCO May 20, 2010 press release, CLICK HERE.

Elevated Proteins May Warn of Ovarian Cancer, But Sufficient Lead Time & Predictive Value Still Lacking

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center researchers discovered that concentrations of the serum biomarkers CA125, human epididymis protein 4 (HE4), and mesothelin began to rise 3 years before clinical diagnosis of ovarian cancer, according to a new study published online December 30 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. However, the biomarkers became substantially elevated only in the last year prior to diagnosis. … In an accompanying editorial to the study results reported by Anderson et. al., Patricia Hartge, ScD, of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute, applauds the researchers for taking the field one step closer to successful screening study designs by showing that the levels of certain biomarkers do not increase early enough to be used for screening.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center researchers discovered that concentrations of the serum biomarkers CA125, human epididymis protein 4 (HE4), and mesothelin began to rise 3 years before clinical diagnosis of ovarian cancer, according to a new study published online December 30 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI). [1] However, the biomarkers became substantially elevated only in the last year prior to diagnosis.

Garnet L. Anderson, Ph.D., Division of Public Health Sciences, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA.

CA125, HE4, mesothelin, B7-H4, decoy receptor 3, and spondin-2 have been identified as potential ovarian cancer serum biomarkers, but their behavior in the prediagnostic period, with the exception of CA125, has not been evaluated.  In the JNCI study, Garnet L. Anderson, Ph.D., of the Division of Public Health Sciences at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and colleagues analyzed prediagnostic serum samples and patient data from the Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial (CARET), a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled chemoprevention trial testing the effects of beta-carotene and retinol on lung cancer incidence among individuals at high risk for lung cancer. Prediagnostic serum samples (taken up to 18 years prior to diagnosis) were obtained for 34 CARET patients with ovarian cancer and 70 matched control CARET subjects. Changes in the levels of these biomarkers prior to ovarian cancer diagnosis were analyzed.

Anderson et. al. discovered that concentrations of CA125, HE4, and mesothelin (but not B7-H4, decoy receptor 3, and spondin-2) began to increase slightly in cancer patients relative to control subjects approximately 3 years before diagnosis, but became substantially elevated within one year prior to diagnosis. Thus, the diagnostic value of these biomarkers is limited because accuracy only increased shortly before diagnosis. “Although these markers are not accurate enough to prompt early intervention in existing screening protocols, the multivariable regression analyses identified modest but statistically significant increases in risk associated with CA125, HE4, and mesothelin, which are consistent with many of the established epidemiological risk factors for ovarian cancer,” say the authors of the study.

“I still think biomarkers may play a role in a cost-effective screening program, although none of these seem accurate enough either alone or together to justify their use in average-risk women,” Anderson told Medscape Oncology. “I do not know of any other currently identified biomarkers that hold more promise than these, but there has been a massive effort over the last few years to identify candidates and not all have been thoroughly vetted,” said Dr. Anderson.

One problem, cites Dr. Anderson, may lie in the approach used in identifying potential ovarian cancer biomarkers. “Most of the discovery work done so far has been conducted in women with advanced-stage disease and compared them to healthy women,” she explained. “If discovery work were done in samples like the ones we used here, representing specimens collected months to years prior to the advanced stage diagnosis, we might have a better chance of finding earlier signals of aggressive disease.”

Another opportunity for improving screening and early diagnosis lies in imaging, she adds. “Currently the most common and only affordable imaging option that could be considered for routine screening is transvaginal ultrasound, but it performs poorly in terms of accurately determining those women [who] have ovarian cancer from those who do not,” said Dr. Anderson. “A substantial improvement in this area would be very exciting.”

Study Limitations Cited By JNCI Editors

The JNCI editors state three limitations that they believe are associated with the study by Anderson et. al. First, the study sample size was small.  Second, all women who participated in CARET had a history of heavy smoking, and therefore, the JNCI editors believe that the blood serum testing results obtained by Anderson et. al. may not apply to other non-smoking groups. Third, the blood collected from women participating in CARET was collected at different times, but only a few samples were collected during the last 2–3 years before ovarian cancer diagnosis.

Designing Ovarian Cancer Early Detection Programs — Accompanying JNCI Editorial

Patricia Hartge, Sc.D. Deputy Director, Epidemiology and Biostatistics Program, Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetic, National Cancer Institute

In an accompanying editorial to the study results reported by Anderson et. al., Patricia Hartge, ScD, of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute, applauds the researchers for taking the field one step closer to successful screening study designs by showing that the levels of certain biomarkers do not increase early enough to be used for screening. [2]

Dr. Hartge notes that despite the discovery that CA125 and other serum markers increase before the clinical onset of ovarian cancer, it has been exceedingly difficult to devise a successful ovarian cancer early screening program for asymptomatic women. Nevertheless, Hartge believes that Anderson et al. take a valuable step toward the design of such a successful screening program by demonstrating why screening regimens that are based on markers, or panels of markers, can fail. Specifically, the researchers discovered that blood levels of CA125, HE4, mesothelin, and three other promising markers did not increase early enough in the course of the disease to allow detection in early stages. Dr. Hartge emphasizes that the markers typically rose within one year of the disease symptoms that led to an accurate diagnosis, and therefore, many of the ovarian cancer patients were diagnosed with advanced stage disease.

Hartge further states “[t]hat the results of Anderson et al. are not the last word in serum markers or in combinations of markers.” “Serum markers likely will form a key element in any screening regimen, with the lead time and other parameters of each marker or combination of markers being taken into account. The careful evaluation technique applied in the current study fits into a staged approach necessary for testing performance of early markers of disease.” Hartge adds that “[o]nly the time-consuming, expensive, and demanding randomized clinical trial can reveal whether an early detection program that includes the biomarkers can save lives.”

In support of her position, Dr. Hartge observes that current randomized trials are testing the value of different screening programs that are built on combinations of CA125, ultrasound, and risk factor data (e.g., family history and age). After four rounds of screening 34,261 postmenopausal women for ovarian cancer with both CA125 and ultrasound, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine investigators of the large U.S. screening trial observed that the predictive value of a positive screen was quite low — approximately 1%. Of the 60 screen-detected cancers, 72% had already advanced to at least stage III. [3] In addition, of every 20 women who underwent surgery after a positive screen, only one women was diagnosed with cancer. Furthermore, in a recent UK trial with a slightly different design, positive predictive values from the first round of screening were higher; 35% in the 50,078 women whose risk was assessed with CA125 and risk factor data, followed by ultrasound only if indicated, and 3% in the 50,639 women screened first with ultrasound. [4] The effects on mortality in both trials remain to be determined.

Confronting The “Daunting Arithmetic” Required To Detect Early Stage Ovarian Cancer

Based upon the foregoing, Dr. Hartge highlights the “daunting arithmetic” required to detect early stage ovarian cancer. In the U.S., Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) data indicates that incidence amounts to 13 cases of ovarian cancer per 100,000 woman per year, referred to by Dr. Hartge as the “proverbial needles in the haystack.” [5] So as not to present a problem without a potential solution, Hartge provides a roadmap to additional factors that may help future researchers develop early screening methods to identify those rare cases of ovarian cancer in the general population.  Notably, SEER data also indicates that incidence of ovarian cancer steadily increases with age from 21 cases per 100,000 women per year within the 50-54 age range to 57 cases per 100,000 women per year within the 80-84 age range. [6] Furthermore, family history, low parity, and more ovulations over a woman’s lifetime predict additional risk, with the strongest but least common predictor being a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. Thus, the general approach suggested by Hartge focuses on women with higher baseline risks, for whom the predictive value of a positive serum test tends to increase. Dr. Hartge believes that the performance of an overall screening program will improve by targeting higher-risk subgroups of women for screening by combining personal history, genetic abnormality status, and levels of serum markers in one prediction model. With ongoing advances in understanding the origin and causes of ovarian cancer, Hartge states that the risk models that are useful for screening programs should also improve.

Further technology advancements may also improve future ovarian cancer early detection screening models, says Hartege. For example, a screening program that is based on a panel of biomarkers can be improved by developing new medical imaging technology that is more specific than current ultrasound technology.  If better imaging existed, fewer women would undergo surgery following a suspicious biomarker finding.  Similarly, development of less invasive surgery could further reduce harmful side effects.  Although Hartge observes that a highly accurate biomarker(s) or an overall screening program does not yet exist, she also explains that the current study by Anderson et. al., with its sobering implications, brings future researchers closer to understanding the crucial elements in designing an effective early detection program for ovarian cancer.

References:

1/Anderson GL , McIntosh M, Wu L, et. al. Assessing Lead Time of Selected Ovarian Cancer Biomarkers: A Nested Case–Control Study. Journal of the National Cancer Institute Advance Access published on January 6, 2010, DOI 10.1093/jnci/djp438. J. Natl. Cancer Inst. 102: 26-38.

2/Hartge P. Designing Early Detection Programs for Ovarian Cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute Advance Access published on January 6, 2010, DOI 10.1093/jnci/djp450. J. Natl. Cancer Inst. 102: 3-4.

3/Partridge E, Kreimer AR, Greenlee RT, et al. Results from four rounds of ovarian cancer screening in a randomized trial. Obstet Gynecol (2009) 113(4):775–782. [PMCID: PMC2728067; PMID: 19305319].

4/Menon U, Gentry-Maharaj A, Hallett R, et al. Sensitivity and specificity of multimodal and ultrasound screening for ovarian cancer, and stage distribution of detected cancers: results of the prevalence screen of the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS). Lancet Oncol (2009) 10(4):327–340. [PMID: 19282241]

5/ Horner MJ, Ries LAG, Krapcho M, et al, eds. SEER Cancer Stat Fact Sheets (2009) Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/ovary.html. Accessed December 2, 2009.

6/Horner MJ, Ries LAG, Krapcho M, et. al., eds. SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2006, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD, http://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2006, based on November 2008 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER web site, 2009 [See Table 21.6: Incidence & Mortality Rates By Age].

Sources:

Vox Populi*: Libby, We’ll Be Missing You

Vox Populi:  Libby, We’ll Be Missing You.

voxpopDear Libby,

One year ago today, you left us after an extended battle with ovarian cancer.  You are missed as a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt and a cousin.  You were, and continue to be, a very special family member to your loved ones who remain behind.  You battled this insidious disease with courage but lost that battle in the prime of your life at age 26.

I wonder why your life was cut short by this disease.

I wonder why an effective screening test has not been discovered by a country that set a lofty goal of landing a man on the moon and accomplished that goal within a decade.

I wonder why there are so many pink ribbons yet so few teal ribbons.

I wonder how the mothers of a major Hollywood celebrity (Angelina Jolie) and the President of the U.S. (Barack Obama) could die from ovarian cancer, yet U.S. women remain generally unaware of the early warning signs and symptoms of the disease.

I have faith that you are in a much better place now.  A place that only knows pure love.  A place that knows no pain or suffering. A place where there are logical answers to my questions above.

I remember when you rode in my new red convertible sports car at the age of 11 with your blond hair blowing behind you in the wind.  At that moment, your life seemed limitless.

I remember when, as a young adult, you helped others who could not help themselves.  You chose generosity and kindness while many of your peers sought money and power.

I remember your positive attitude after initial diagnosis, despite the fact that you had every reason to blame life and others for your plight.

I remember your dry sense of humor after a doctor attempted to soften the blow of a disease recurrence diagnosis by telling you that even he could step out into the street tomorrow and get hit by a bus.  You suggested that the doctor needed serious help with his “people skills,” but joked that his insensitive statement should appear on an ovarian cancer fundraising T-shirt.

I remember how you continued to seek out medical solutions to your disease in the face of dire odds and statistics.

I remember “hearing” your smile on the telephone, regardless of our 3,000 mile separation.

I will always remember your example of love, faith, hope, courage, persistence, and ultimately, acceptance.

On July 28, 2008, I wrote about two songs that immediately came to mind after I heard about your passing.  One year later, two songs again come to mind based upon your inspiration and memory.

The first song is I’ll Be Missing You.

I’ll Be Missing You was written by Terry “Sauce Money” Carroll and performed by Sean “Diddy” Combs (then Puff Daddy), Faith Evans and 112.  Terry Carroll received a 1997 Grammy Award for the song that is based in part upon the melody of the 1983 Grammy Award-Winning song Every Breath You Take (written by Sting and performed by The Police).  I’ll Be Missing You was inspired by the memory of Combs’ fellow Bad Boy Records artist Christopher Wallace (aka Notorious B.I.G. ) who died in March 1997.  The song lyrics express what our family is feeling today when we think of you:

… Life ain’t always what it seem to be
Words can’t express what you mean to me
Even though you’re gone, we still a team
Through your family, I’ll fulfill your dream

In the future, can’t wait to see
If you open up the gates for me
Reminisce sometime
The night they took my friend
Try to black it out but it plays again
When it’s real feelings’ hard to conceal
Can’t imagine all the pain I feel
Give anything to hear half your breath
I know you still livin’ your life after death

… It’s kinda hard with you not around
Know you in heaven smilin down
Watchin us while we pray for you
Every day we pray for you
Til the day we meet again
In my heart is where I’ll keep you friend
Memories give me the strength I need to proceed
Strength I need to believe …
I still can’t believe you’re gone
Give anything to hear half your breath
I know you still living you’re life, after death …

The second song is Eva Cassidy’s cover of Over The Rainbow, which is the Academy Award-Winning song written by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, and originally sung by Judy Garland, in the 1939 Academy Award-Nominated “Best Picture” film Wizard of Oz.

Eva Cassidy, like you, died in the prime of her life from cancer.  Eva was 33 years old when she died in 1996 from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.  During her life, she created and sung beautiful music in relative obscurity. After her death, millions of worldwide fans “discovered” her music and today celebrate her life.  The lyrics of this classic ballad celebrate our belief that you are now at peace in a beautiful place “somewhere over the rainbow,” along with the hope that we will one day be reunited with you:

Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high
There’s a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby

Some day I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where troubles melt like lemondrops
Away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me

Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then, oh why can’t I?

In Mitch Albom’s bestselling memoir Tuesdays With Morrie, Morrie Schwartz, who was suffering from terminal Lou Gehrig’s Disease, taught Albom (his former college student) an important lesson about how death reminds us to live fully each day with love. “As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away,” he told Albom one Tuesday. “All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here. Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

Libby, your memory, love, and inspiration live on in our hearts and minds.  Your physical life ended one year ago, but your relationship with us is eternal.  We will forever love you.

Libby Remick (1982 - 2008) Grieve not, nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk of me as if I were beside you there. -- Isla Paschal Richardson

Libby Remick (1982 - 2008) "Grieve not, nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk of me as if I were beside you there." -- Isla Paschal Richardson

I am requesting family members and readers to honor Libby by contributing at least $1.00 to ovarian cancer research via the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (and PayPal).  To make a contribution, click on Kelly Ripa’s picture located on the left homepage sidebar, or simply CLICK HERE.

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  • Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.
  • In 2009, the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that there will be approximately 21,550 new ovarian cancer cases diagnosed in the U.S.  ACS estimates that 14,600 U.S. women will die from the disease, or about 40 women per day.
  • Ovarian cancer is not a “silent” disease; it is a “subtle” disease. Recent studies indicate that some women may experience persistent, nonspecific symptoms, such as (i) bloating, (ii) pelvic or abdominal pain, (iii) difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, or (iv) urinary urgency or frequency. Women who experience such symptoms daily for more than a few weeks should seek prompt medical evaluation. To learn more about the warning signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, CLICK HERE.
  • Ovarian cancer can afflict adolescent, young adult, and mature women, although the risk of disease increases with age and peaks in the late 70s. Pregnancy and the long-term use of oral contraceptives reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • There is no reliable screening test for the detection of early stage ovarian cancer. Pelvic examination only occasionally detects ovarian cancer, generally when the disease is advanced. A Pap smear cannot detect ovarian cancer. However, the combination of a thorough pelvic exam, transvaginal ultrasound, and a blood test for the tumor marker CA125 may be offered to women who are at high risk of ovarian cancer and to women who have persistent, unexplained symptoms like those listed above.
  • If diagnosed at the localized stage, the 5-year ovarian cancer survival rate is 92%; however, only about 19% of all cases are detected at this stage, usually fortuitously during another medical procedure.
  • For women with regional and distant metastatic disease, the 5-year ovarian cancer survival rates are 71% and 30%, respectively. The 10-year relative survival rate for all stages combined is 38%.

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*”Vox Populi,” a Latin phrase that means “voice of the people,” is a term often used in broadcast journalism to describe an interview of a “man on the street.”

In the spirit of Vox Populi, Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ searches online for original pieces of writing created by ovarian cancer survivors, survivors’ family members, cancer advocates, journalists, and health care professionals, which address one or more aspects of ovarian cancer within the context of daily life. The written pieces that we discover run the gamut; sometimes poignant, sometimes educational, sometimes touching, sometimes comedic, but always honest. The written piece may be an essay, editorial, poem, letter, or story about a loved one. In all cases, we have received permission from the writer to publish his or her written piece as a Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ Vox Populi weblog post.

It is our hope that the monthly Vox Populi feature will allow readers to obtain, in some small way, a better understanding of how ovarian cancer impacts the life of a woman diagnosed with the disease and her family. We invite all readers to submit, or bring to our attention, original written pieces suitable for publication as monthly Vox Populi features.


To Screen or Not To Screen? Ultrasound + CA125 Blood Test Fail to Detect Early Stage Ovarian Cancer

On March 10, 2009, Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ reported on the preliminary findings of a large British study that suggest that the combination of transvaginal ultrasound and CA125 blood test (a blood serum marker for ovarian cancer) can detect early ovarian cancer.  A recent U.S. study, published in the April 2009 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, found that the same combination screening regime did not detect early stage ovarian cancer and often resulted in unnecessary surgery. The U.S. and British studies, taken together, highlight the need to find an effective screening method to detect ovarian cancer.

On March 10, 2009, Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ reported on the preliminary findings of a large British study that suggest that the combination of transvaginal ultrasound and CA125 blood test (a blood serum marker for ovarian cancer) can detect early ovarian cancer.  A recent U.S. study, published in the April 2009 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, found that the same combination screening regime did not detect early stage ovarian cancer and often resulted in unnecessary surgery. The U.S. and British studies, taken together, highlight the need to find an effective screening method to detect ovarian cancer.

partridge-edward

Dr. Edward E. Partridge is the Director of the University of Alabama Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center, Birmingham, Alabama.

In a recent interview with U.S. News & World Report, the lead researcher of the U.S. study, Dr. Edward Partridge, Director of the University of Alabama Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center, said, “The jury is still out on the efficacy of screening with CA125 and transvaginal ultrasound in terms of reducing the mortality rate of ovarian cancer.  In this study, we do not have mortality data on the screening versus the non-screening group, so no conclusions can be made of the impact of screening with CA125 and transvaginal ultrasound.”

Partridge noted that this study only reports data on women who were screened. “We learned that the positive predictive value for the combination of tests is pretty low — in the 1 to 1.3 percent range,” he said. “A substantial number of the tests are false positives.”  In addition, screening with transvaginal ultrasound lead to a higher rate of surgery for positive findings than positive CA125, Partridge said. “Transvaginal ultrasound leads to more ‘unnecessary’ surgeries,” he said.  Partridge also noted that a high percentage of the cancers detected through screening were late-stage malignancies.  “If you detect them at a late stage, it is unlikely that you are going to impact mortality,” he said. “In order to affect mortality, one has to detect them at an earlier stage.”

As part of the study, the U.S. researchers collected data on 34,261 women who underwent annual screening for CA125 and also had transvaginal ultrasound.  A CA 125 value at or above 35 units/mL or an abnormality on transvaginal ultrasound was considered a “positive” screen.  The researchers found that  transvaginal ultrasound produced more positive findings for cancer than CA125 screening over the four years of screening, while the CA125 positive tests decreased from 60 percent in the first year to 34 percent in the third year.  Of the 89 invasive ovarian cancers diagnosed, 60 were detected through screening. In addition, 72 percent of the screen-detected cancer were late-stage cancers, the U.S. researchers reported.

Partridge told U.S. News & World Report that even detecting cancer early may not have an impact on mortality. “In any screening trial, the ultimate test of its usefulness is does it impact mortality,” he said.  Patridge added that based upon the findings of this study and The United Kingdom Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS) study published by Menon et. al. in the March 10 online edition of  The Lancet Oncology, the CA125 blood test & ultrasound screening method will not have any effect on mortality. “What we need is a more sensitive and specific screening test,” Partridge said.

In the UKCTOCS study, a British research team found that screening was able to identify most women with gynecologic cancer. The combination of the CA125 blood test and ultrasound found 90 percent of the cancers, while ultrasound alone found 75 percent of the cancers.  The researchers also found that almost 50 percent of all the cancers found were in an early stage (stage I or II).  And, 48 percent of the more invasive ovarian cancers detected were designated as being stage I tumors. By way of comparison, the British researchers pointed out that only 28 percent of ovarian cancers are identified in this early stage.

Dr. David G. Mutch, the Ira C. and Judith Gall Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Washington University, St. Louis, and author of an accompanying journal editorial, agreed there is no worthwhile screening test for ovarian cancer as yet.  “Patients who were screened presented at the same stage as they would have if they were unscreened,” Mutch said. “There is no good screening test at this point.”  Mutch added that there is no reason to screen for ovarian cancer in the general population at this point. “The prevalence of the diseases is so low, one in 2,500, and the specificity of the tests are so low, that we are going to operate on a lot of patients unnecessarily,” he said.

Primary Sources:

Routine Screening for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Recommended By ACOG & SGO

Evaluating a patient’s risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome is an important first step in cancer prevention and early detection and should be a routine part of ob-gyn practice. Those who are likely to have the syndrome should be referred for further assessment to a clinician with expertise in genetics, according to a new Practice Bulletin jointly released today by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists [ACOG] and the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists [SGO]. The new document also provides information on how to counsel patients with hereditary risk in cancer prevention and how to perform surgical removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes in this population

“Routine Screening for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Recommended

Washington, DC — Evaluating a patient’s risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome is an important first step in cancer prevention and early detection and should be a routine part of ob-gyn practice. Those who are likely to have the syndrome should be referred for further assessment to a clinician with expertise in genetics, according to a new Practice Bulletin jointly released today by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists [ACOG] and the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists [SGO]. The new document also provides information on how to counsel patients with hereditary risk in cancer prevention and how to perform surgical removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes in this population.

Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome is an inherited cancer-susceptibility syndrome marked by multiple family members with breast cancer, ovarian cancer or both; the presence of both breast and ovarian cancer in a single individual; and early age of breast cancer onset.

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Karen Lu, M.D., Professor of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

‘The vast majority of families who have hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome carry an inherited mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 tumor suppressor genes. Women in these families may have a higher risk of breast, ovarian, peritoneal, and fallopian tube cancers,’ said Karen Lu, MD, professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, who helped develop the ACOG Practice Bulletin. ‘Though having a BRCA gene mutation does not mean an individual will undoubtedly develop cancer, it is better to know sooner rather than later who may be at risk.’

Women with either BRCA mutation have a 65%-74% chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. Ovarian cancer risk is increased by 39%-46% in women with a BRCA1 mutation and by 12-20% in women with a BRCA2 mutation. Approximately 1 in 300 to 1 in 800 individuals in the US are BRCA carriers. BRCA mutations may occur more frequently in some populations founded by small ancestral groups, such as Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews, French Canadians, and Icelanders. An estimated 1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews has a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.

The new document addresses the ob-gyn’s role in identifying, managing, and counseling patients with an inherited cancer risk. The initial screening evaluation should include specific questions about personal and family history of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Because BRCA mutations can be passed down from both the father’s and mother’s side of the family, both sides of a woman’s family should be carefully examined. Obtaining a full family history may be impeded in women who were adopted, those from families that have multiple women who had a hysterectomy and oophorectomy at a young age, or those from families with few female relatives. The results of a general evaluation will help determine whether the patient would benefit from a more in-depth hereditary cancer risk assessment, which should be conducted by a health care provider with expertise in cancer genetics.

Further genetic risk assessment is recommended for women who have more than a 20%-25% chance of having an inherited predisposition to breast or ovarian cancer. These women include:

  • Women with a personal history of both breast cancer and ovarian cancer
  • Women with ovarian cancer and a close relative—defined as mother, sister, daughter, grandmother, granddaughter, aunt—with ovarian cancer, premenopausal breast cancer, or both
  • Women of Ashkenazi Jewish decent with breast cancer who were diagnosed at age 40 or younger or who have ovarian cancer
  • Women with breast cancer at 50 or younger and who have a close relative with ovarian cancer or male breast cancer at any age
  • Women with a close relative with a known BRCA mutation

Genetic risk assessment may also be appropriate for women with a 5%-10% chance of having hereditary risk, including:

  • Women with breast cancer by age 40
  • Women with ovarian cancer, primary peritoneal cancer, or fallopian tube cancer or high grade, serous histology at any age
  • Women with cancer in both breasts (particularly if the first cancer was diagnosed by age 50)
  • Women with breast cancer by age 50 and a close relative with breast cancer by age 50
  • Women with breast cancer at any age and two or more close relatives with breast cancer at any age (particularly if at least one case of breast cancer was diagnosed by age 50)
  • Unaffected women with a close relative that meets one of the previous criteria

Before testing, a genetic counselor can discuss the possible outcomes of testing; options for surveillance, chemoprevention, and risk-reducing surgery; cost and legal and insurance matters surrounding genetic tests and test results; and the psychologic and familial implications that may follow. The counselor can also provide written materials that women can share with family members who may also have an inherited risk.

Screening, Prevention, and Surgical Intervention

Those with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome can begin a screening and prevention plan based on individual risk factors and family history. Ovarian cancer screening approaches are currently limited. For women with a BRCA mutation, ACOG recommends periodic screening with CA 125 and transvaginal ultrasonography beginning between the ages of 30 and 35 years or 5-10 years earlier than the earliest age of first diagnosis of ovarian cancer in the family.

Risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy surgery—which removes both of the ovaries and fallopian tubes—can reduce the risk of ovarian and fallopian tube cancer by about 85% to 90% among BRCA carriers. Women who have BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations should be offered risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy by age 40 or when childbearing is complete. The ideal time for this surgery depends on the type of gene mutation.

‘In this population, risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy and pathology review must be extremely comprehensive to check for microscopic cancers in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and abdominal cavity,’ Dr. Lu said. According to the Practice Bulletin, all tissue from the ovaries and fallopian tubes should be removed, and a complete, serial sectioning that includes microscopic examination for occult cancer should be conducted. A thorough visualization of the peritoneal surfaces with pelvic washings should be performed. Any abnormal areas should undergo biopsy.

Strategies recommended to reduce breast cancer risk in women with a BRCA mutation include semiannual clinical breast examination; an annual mammogram and annual breast magnetic resonance imaging screening beginning at age 25 or sooner based on the earliest age onset in the family; chemoprevention therapy with tamoxifen; and bilateral mastectomy to remove both breasts, which reduces the risk of breast cancer by greater than 90%-95%.

Practice Bulletin #103 “Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome” is published in the April 2009 edition of Obstetrics & Gynecology.”

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About the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is the national medical organization representing over 53,000 members who provide health care for women.

About the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists

The Society of Gynecologic Oncologists is a national medical specialty organization of physician-surgeons who are trained in the comprehensive management of women with malignancies of the reproductive tract.  The purpose of the SGO is to improve the care of women with gynecologic cancers by encouraging research and disseminating knowledge to raise the standards of practice in the prevention and treatment of gynecologic malignancies, in cooperation with other organizations interested in women’s health care, oncology and related fields. This is reflected in the Society’s Mission statement to “promote and ensure the highest quality
of comprehensive clinical care through excellence in education and research in gynecologic cancers.”

Primary Source:  Routine Screening for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Recommended, News Release, American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, March 20, 2009.

Preliminary Findings of a Large British Study Indicate That CA-125 Blood Test & Transvaginal Ultrasound Test Can Detect Early Ovarian Cancer

“Ovarian cancer has a high case—fatality ratio, with most women not diagnosed until the disease is in its advanced stages. The United Kingdom Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS) is a randomised controlled trial designed to assess the effect of screening on mortality. This report summarises the outcome of the prevalence (initial) screen in UKCTOCS. …”

“Background

Ovarian cancer has a high case—fatality ratio, with most women not diagnosed until the disease is in its advanced stages. The United Kingdom Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS) is a randomised controlled trial designed to assess the effect of screening on mortality. This report summarises the outcome of the prevalence (initial) screen in UKCTOCS.

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The United Kingdom Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening - Overall Trial Design

Methods

Between 2001 and 2005, a total of 202,638 post-menopausal women aged 50—74 years were randomly assigned to [1] no treatment (control; n=101,359); [2] annual CA125 screening (interpreted using a risk of ovarian cancer algorithm) with transvaginal ultrasound scan as a second-line test (multimodal screening [MMS]; n=50,640); or [3] annual screening with transvaginal ultrasound (USS; n=50,639) alone in a 2:1:1 ratio using a computer-generated random number algorithm. All women provided a blood sample at recruitment. Women randomised to the MMS group had their blood tested for CA125 and those randomised to the USS group were sent an appointment to attend for a transvaginal scan. Women with abnormal screens had repeat tests. Women with persistent abnormality on repeat screens underwent clinical evaluation and, where appropriate, surgery. This trial is registered as ISRCTN22488978 and with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT00058032.

Findings

In the prevalence screen, 50,078 (98.9%) women underwent MMS, and 48,230 (95.2%) underwent USS. The main reasons for withdrawal were death (two MMS, 28 USS), non-ovarian cancer or other disease (none MMS, 66 USS), removal of ovaries (five MMS, 29 USS), relocation (none MMS, 39 USS), failure to attend three appointments for the screen (72 MMS, 757 USS), and participant changing their mind (483 MMS, 1,490 USS). Overall, 4,355 of 50,078 (8.7%) women in the MMS group and 5,779 of 48,230 (12.0%) women in the USS group required a repeat test, and 167 (0.3%) women in the MMS group and 1,894 (3.9%) women in the USS group required clinical evaluation. 97 of 50,078 (0.2%) women from the MMS group and 845 of 48,230 (1.8%) from the USS group underwent surgery. 42 (MMS) and 45 (USS) primary ovarian and tubal cancers were detected, including 28 borderline tumours (eight MMS, 20 USS). 28 (16 MMS, 12 USS) of 58 (48.3%; 95% CI 35.0—61.8) of the invasive cancers were stage I/II, with no difference (p=0.396) in stage distribution between the groups. A further 13 (five MMS, eight USS) women developed primary ovarian cancer during the year after the screen. The sensitivity, specificity, and positive-predictive values for all primary ovarian and tubal cancers were 89.4%, 99.8%, and 43.3% for MMS, and 84.9%, 98.2%, and 5.3% for USS, respectively. For primary invasive epithelial ovarian and tubal cancers, the sensitivity, specificity, and positive-predictive values were 89.5%, 99.8%, and 35.1% for MMS, and 75.0%, 98.2%, and 2.8% for USS, respectively. There was a significant difference in specificity (p<0.0001) but not sensitivity between the two screening groups for both primary ovarian and tubal cancers as well as primary epithelial invasive ovarian and tubal cancers.

Interpretation

The sensitivity of the MMS and USS screening strategies is encouraging. Specificity was higher in the MMS than in the USS group, resulting in lower rates of repeat testing and surgery. This in part reflects the high prevalence of benign adnexal abnormalities and the more frequent detection of borderline tumours in the USS group. The prevalence screen has established that the screening strategies are feasible. The results of ongoing screening are awaited so that the effect of screening on mortality can be determined.

Funding

Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health, UK; with additional support from the Eve Appeal, Special Trustees of Bart’s and the London, and Special Trustees of University College London Hospital.”

Primary Source

Sensitivity and specificity of multimodal and ultrasound screening for ovarian cancer, and stage distribution of detected cancers: results of the prevalence screen of the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS); Sensitivity and specificity of multimodal and ultrasound screening for ovarian cancer, and stage distribution of detected cancers: results of the prevalence screen of the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS); Usha Menon MD, Aleksandra Gentry-Maharaj Ph.D., Rachel Hallett Ph.D. et. al, The Lancet Oncology, Early Online Publication, 11 March 2009 doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(09)70026-9.

Comment

During an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Ian Jacobs, director of the Institute for Women’s Health at University College London, and director of the trial, discussed the optimism and the caveats associated with the preliminary clinical study results as follows:

We have now demonstrated we can pick up the vast majority of women with ovarian cancer earlier than they would have otherwise been detected and before they have symptoms, .. and that a good proportion of those women have earlier stage disease than we would normally expect them to have. … [W]omen thinking of having this must understand and realize that there’s a possibility it will do more harm than good. We have reason to think it will save lives, … and then the question is, will it save enough lives to balance out the harm it does? [Emphasis added].

Robert Smith, director of cancer screening for the American Cancer Society informed the New York Times that “[w]e’re not even remotely close to knowing how to screen women of average risk with these tests, or even if we should.” Mr Smith added that it is important to run large clinical trials, but that the preliminary results of this study must be interpreted with caution.

Secondary Sources