A new early-detection tool for ovarian cancer is being trialled by the NHS in order to increase the number of women who survive their diagnosis.
The scheme, known as ALDO (Avoiding Late Diagnosis in Ovarian Cancer) will provide a new blood-testing technology to monitor women who have an increased risk of developing the disease because they carry a defective BRCA gene. Individuals who carry this have a 60% lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer, as opposed to the 2% chance by the average woman who doesn’t have the gene.
This leads to an extremely difficult decision for those affected, as they can either live with the high risk of obtaining the cancer at any point during their lifetime, or have preventive surgery that prematurely ends their fertility.
The ALDO program is the first technology of its kind to be piloted as a NHS service. For the pilot, 2,000 UK women with a faulty BRCA gene will be monitored over a year using a ROCA blood test that assesses changes in the amount of the chemical CA125 in their blood. CA125 usually rises in patients with ovarian cancer before any other symptoms appear for the individual. Therefore, detecting its levels could potentially lead to a life-saving early diagnosis.
‘Every year, more than 7,000 women are diagnosed with the disease and over 4,000 will die. Only 35% of these women will live for 10 or more years after diagnosis, largely due to late detection,’ says Caroline Presho, the director of BRCA Umbrella, who also carried a faulty BRCA gene but opted for preventive surgery.
Adam Rosenthal, a consultant gynaecologist at University College London Hospitals and the clinical director for the ALDO project, added: ‘It is clear that for women with a faulty BRCA gene, having surgery to remove their ovaries and fallopian tubes is the most effective way of preventing ovarian cancer.’
He continues: ‘However, thousands of women choose to delay surgery for a variety of reasons including completing their family or avoiding early menopause. The surveillance should mean they are less likely to be diagnosed with an advanced ovarian cancer.’
Similarly, Annwen Jones, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, explained: ‘For women at a higher risk of ovarian cancer, preventative surgery is still the most effective way to reduce their risk. This can be a very difficult choice for many women, particularly younger women.’
‘This pilot project is to be welcomed in giving women who are at a higher risk of ovarian cancer more options in the short term to manage that risk, and we look forward to seeing the project outcomes. In the meantime, we need to continue our focus on raising awareness of symptoms with GPs and the public in order to address the issue of late diagnosis more widely, and we repeat our call for a government-led symptoms awareness campaign.’
If the pilot proves to be both feasible and cost effective, the aim is to launch a national surveillance service for women with a faulty BRCA gene in the near future.
Find out more about how ALDO works and who is eligible at targetovariancancer.org.uk