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CA125 What?

While rare, approximately 14,000 women in the United States die every year from ovarian cancer because most women are not diagnosed until it has progressed to an advanced stage. According to Dr. Robert Gunby at Gunby Payne Littrell in Dallas, the most widely used test to detect these tumors is a blood test known as CA125, which picks up proteins common to ovarian growths. But this test isn’t always accurate—blood levels of these proteins also rise during pregnancy, endometriosis or with arthritis. “You may get a false positive and end up getting a surgery you don’t need,” warns Gunby. For that reason, CA125 isn’t widely used as a screening tool in premenopausal women.

But in a recent trial presented at ASCO, physicians provided a possible new way to use CA125 screening. During the trial, if changes were detected, volunteers were tested more frequently. And if the increased screening tests revealed a steady rise in CA125 blood protein levels, they underwent more detailed testing. Of the 3,238 women studied (ages 50 to 74), 7 percent were referred each year for three-month CA125 screenings; those who fell into the high-risk group (1 percent) were assigned to follow up with a gynecologist. Eight women were found to have tumors, and five of those were malignant.

The good news for those eight: Because of the implementation of the test, all were caught at an early stage.