Blood test could save lives from cancer

May 21, 2010 5:01:45 PM PDT
Ovarian cancer is hard to diagnose because the symptoms are vague: bloating, swollen abdomen, abdominal pain. But a new blood test may be changing all that. "It saved my life because you rarely find ovarian cancer at the stage 1C," Liz Stegall said.

But Stegall did find it through a blood test -- one she took only after her friend died of ovarian cancer.

"I just can't help but believe that in some way, she's given back to me," Stegall said.

In the two months before that blood test, a gastroenterologist declared Stegall fine, and so did her gynecologist. Then she had the CA125 blood test.

"There was no way that would have been found other than that CA125," she said.

Doctors are using an old test in a new way. The test was actually developed at MD Anderson more than 20 years ago. But now they're using a math formula where they're adding specific information about each woman. Then the do the test each year and watch the results to see if they're trending up, much like doctors monitor results from the PSA test.

Lead researcher Dr. Karen Lu said, "I don't want women to have false hope. So I think the way I see the results of our study is that it is a small step. It's very encouraging. We're picking up the most aggressive type of ovarian cancer, and we're picking it up in an early stage."

And it's picking it up among women who have little cancer risk. Liz was one of three women out of 3,200 who were picked up by the test with invasive ovarian cancer.

She said, "It just happened, and I just happened to be the one. And I happened to be in the right place."

Dr. Lu says if follow up studies are this good, she predicts the 'souped up' CA125 blood test will become part of every woman's annual checkup.

"It's a simple blood test. You get it done when you have your cholesterol screening," Dr. Lu said. "When it's caught early, we can cure it."

Liz's treatment is over, and she is ovarian-cancer free.

MD Anderson needs another 3,000 healthy women to enroll in the ovarian cancer study. For information call 713-563-1790. They want women with no history of breast or ovarian cancer.


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