Waiting for cancer researchers to develop a more sensitive screen isn't a good option for women considered at high risk for ovarian cancer. These women, experts say, should be undergoing specialized testing now. Those who should be examined for risk of ovarian cancer include:
* Women with a family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer. Close relatives with either of these cancers may indicate a genetic predisposition.
* Women with a history of breast cancer. Research suggests a correlation between breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Genetics as well as reproductive abnormalities may be responsible.
* Women who test positive for the BRCA gene. The BRCA gene may predispose women for ovarian cancer. Those with a strong family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer, in particular, should be tested for the BRCA gene.
Existing screens and preventive treatment
Currently, there is no blood test. The closest marker for ovarian cancer, CA-125, is inaccurate. Proteomic (protein) tests are promising, but are still under investigation. More time-tested screening and preventive tools include:
* Pelvic ultrasound. For patients who are considered to be at high risk, high-resolution ultrasound of the pelvis is recommended twice yearly. Contrast ultrasonography, which traces an abnormal blood supply in a pre-cancer, is under investigation.
* Genetic screening This primarily involves a search for the BRCA high-risk gene. But further research is expected to reveal more genetic abnormalities that predispose a patient to ovarian cancer.
* Surgery Prophylactic oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) may be advised if the risk of ovarian cancer is felt to be greater than 10 percent. This generally applies to patients with a BRCA gene, though the goal of current research is to be able to predict risk in a larger population of women.
-- Marc Siegel