An ovarian cancer researching looking into a microscope

Ovarian Cancer Screening study results published 

Research into screening for women with no symptoms of ovarian cancer concludes programme would not save lives.

Today sees the publication of the final results from the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS) study, published in The Lancet medical journal. Unfortunately, the results conclude that screening for ovarian cancer using a combination of annual blood tests and ultrasounds would not save lives. 

How did the study work?

The UKCTOCS trial looked at data from more than 200,000 women with no symptoms of ovarian cancer, following each of them for an average of 16 years. The women were split randomly into three groups:

  • one group had no screening
  • one group had an annual screening using an ultrasound scan
  • one group had an annual blood test and ultrasound scan if the blood tests were abnormal

The trial was designed to see if screening using either of these methods for women who had no symptoms, and had no family history of ovarian or breast cancer, would save lives. 

What did the study find?

The Lancet reported in 2015 that screening via the third group (annual CA125 blood test, with ultrasound scan if the blood test results were abnormal) did detect ovarian cancer at an earlier stage than no screening at all. However it stopped short of recommending a screening programme as there was no evidence at that point that this would save lives.

Today’s results have given researchers time to fully analyse the longer term impact of the screening. Unfortunately, the conclusion is that screening in this manner, for symptomless women without a family history, wouldn't be effective in saving lives.  

It's important to note that using blood tests and ultrasound scans as tools for diagnosing ovarian cancer for women who do have symptoms is an established and proven part of clinical guidance and the results of the trial don't change this.  

Annwen Jones OBE, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said:

It is extremely disappointing news that this major ovarian cancer screening trial, the largest to date, has not delivered the outcome we all wished for. Since the trial was created, we have seen several major advances in the diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer, including clinical guidelines for GPs, improvements in surgery, and milestone treatments such as PARP inhibitors. It is vital that women with symptoms of ovarian cancer are diagnosed as quickly as possible so that they can access treatment promptly, and that we now see a major increase in funding for research into new treatments for ovarian cancer as well as new screening tools.

Annwen served as an independent member of the UKCTOCS Trial Steering Committee.  

What does this mean for the future?

Today’s news will continue to push us to campaign for more awareness of the symptoms and more funding into research for newer and better treatments as well as better screening tests for the disease. The earlier a woman is diagnosed, the sooner she can receive treatment, and the less complex the treatment is likely to be.  

Women need newer and better treatments and screening tools and we need them now. Target Ovarian Cancer has already funded one study into using tumour DNA as a diagnostic biomarker for ovarian cancer. We also fund a large programme of GP awareness including training tools to support all GPs in diagnosing ovarian cancer as early as possible. Our gold-standard ovarian cancer research grants programme is now open for applications and donations, and we intend to fund the very best work to accelerate the discovery of new, life-extending treatments and improve the quality of life for women with ovarian cancer.