Early detection of ovarian cancer saves women’s lives. No screening test exists that can test all women for ovarian cancer. The Pap test does not test for ovarian cancer; it screens for cervical cancer.
Not only do researchers need to develop an early detection test for ovarian cancer, like mammograms for breast cancer and Pap tests for cervical cancer, but also women and medical professionals need to become more aware of ovarian cancer symptoms.
While no early detection tool exists for all women, several tests exist for women who are at a high risk. If a woman has ovarian cancer symptoms, a strong family history, or a genetic predisposition such as a BRCA mutation, doctors may monitor her with one of three tests or a combination of them.
Screening Tools, Detection and Treatment
Does an elevated CA 125 level always indicate that ovarian cancer is present?
Not always. Although a CA 125 blood test can be a useful tool for the diagnosis of ovarian cancer, in premenopausal women, it is not uncommon for a CA 125 count to be elevated due to benign conditions unrelated to ovarian cancer. Uterine fibroids, liver disease, inflammation of the fallopian tubes and other types of cancer can elevate a woman’s CA 125 level. (ACOG Patient Education—1996) The CA 125 test is more accurate in postmenopausal women. It is also important to note that in about 20% of cases of advanced stage disease, and 50% of cases of early stage disease, the CA 125 is NOT elevated, even though there is ovarian cancer present. As a result, the CA 125 is generally only one of several tools used to diagnose ovarian cancer. One of the most important uses of the CA 125 test, however, is to evaluate progressive disease and tumor response in patients undergoing treatment, and to monitor the levels of women in remission for evidence of disease recurrence.
Is the blood marker LPA (lysophosphatidic acid) an effective screening tool for ovarian cancer?
LPA or lysophosphatidic acid is a substance that stimulates the growth of ovarian tumors. One small study found that levels of LPA in blood plasma are elevated in about 90% of women with early ovarian cancer. There are clinical trials going on presently to determine the effectiveness of LPA in detecting ovarian cancer. (JAMA, August 26, 1998) However, it is still to early to know if this test will be a good screening tool. This test is not yet available to the public.