UCL Population Health Sciences


Screening for ovarian cancer

28 January 2020

One of the top challenges in tackling cancer is catching it early enough to carry out effective treatment. A UCL research group is working to develop an ovarian cancer screening programme to benefit thousands more people.

Screening for ovarian cancer

A cancer screening programme is not yet available for ovarian cancer. Despite significant advances in treatment, only about 45% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer survive for five years or more, largely because it is usually diagnosed at a late stage

A team led by Professors Usha Menon (UCL Institute for Clinical Trials and Methodology) and Ian Jacobs (previously at UCL EGA Institute for Women’s Health) has been working on whether screening picks up the disease earlier and save lives, with a major trial with over 202,000 women and 11 years of annual screening. Women who had no screening were compared with those screened with either a vaginal ultrasound or a blood test. 

The researchers found that the blood test picked up the cancer earlier and the screening method appears to be cost-effective. 

Extended follow-up is now underway to establish whether this results in lives being saved. If successful, then the blood-based screening programme may be able to reduce ovarian cancer deaths by a fifth. 

The final results of the 20-year study should be available in 2021 to help the NHS make a decision as to whether to introduce ovarian cancer screening. 

Usha said,

If we are able to show that a simple blood test could save lives, then it would be possible for the NHS to introduce a screening programme for ovarian cancer, similar to breast and cervical screening.


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Image credit: Illustration by Studio Imeus