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New ovarian cancer monitoring service launched

The UCLH Cancer Collaborative started a pilot NHS surveillance service last week aimed at detecting early ovarian cancer in high risk women who have chosen not to have their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed.

Women over 35 with a faulty BRCA gene, which places them at high risk, recruited to the service will have a blood test every 4 months to monitor their risk and catch the disease earlier.

The ROCA Test, developed by UCL spin out biotech company Abcodia, assesses changes in levels of the blood chemical CA125, which tends to rise in ovarian cancer. The test catches 9 out of 10 cancers before they cause symptoms.

Over 4,000 women die each year from the disease in the UK and early diagnosis of ovarian cancer improves survival rates. However, detection is often late because symptoms are hard to spot and only 35% of women live for more than 10 years after diagnosis often because it is too late. 

The chance of a woman developing ovarian cancer is around 2%, but this rises to 40-60% for carriers of the BRCA1 gene, and 10-30% for carriers of the BRCA2 gene. Preventive surgery is the best course of action for the 1 in 400 women with a faulty BRCA gene. But removing the ovaries and fallopian tubes has major side effects, particularly for pre-menopausal women, including infertility and premature menopause – so many women delay surgery.

Mr Adam Rosenthal, Consultant Gynaecologist at UCLH and Clinical Director for the pilot, named ALDO (avoiding late diagnosis of ovarian cancer), said:

‘Thousands of women choose to delay surgery for a variety of reasons including completing their family or avoiding early menopause. There is currently no national ovarian cancer surveillance for these women.

‘We want this service to be available to all women with a faulty BRCA gene who are not yet ready to have surgery to remove their ovaries and fallopian tubes. The surveillance should mean they are less likely to be diagnosed with an advanced ovarian cancer.’

Improving early diagnosis of cancer is a recommendation of the national cancer strategy.