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Chemical tip-off to ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer's high fatality rate stems in part from the difficulty of detecting the disease and monitoring its spread. Most physicians rely on time-consuming and expensive imaging techniques, such as CT scans, to find and track ovarian tumors. But a new blood test already in use in the Netherlands may soon improve their ability to follow the course of the disease.

M.E.L. van der Burg, an oncologist at the Daniel den Hoed Clinic in Rotterdam, reports that a blood serum protein called CA 125 is an effective indicator of the recurrence of ovarian cancer. In some cases, she says, the presence of CA 125 is a better tip-off of ovarian cancer's spread than are standard imaging techniques.

Most human tissues contain low levels of CA 125. The protein, whose normal function remains unknown, is also secreted by tumors of the ovaries, colon, cervix and breast, and shows up in elevated levels in blood samples from patients with these malignancies.

Van der Burg's team used CA 125 blood tests to detect the recurrence of ovarian tumors in 113 women over an average of seven years. The test proved accurate in 61 percent of the patients who suffered relapses during the study. Moreover, it detected these relapses an average of 4.5 months before imaging techniques revealed the new tumors, she reports. CT scans usually do not detect tumors until they have grown larger than 1 centimeter, she notes.

"I believe in it," says van der Burg, who now uses the CA 125 test to monitor relapses among all of her ovarian cancer patients. "I think it is an advance."

She adds, however, that the test has a false-positive rate of 4 percent, which means that 4 percent of patients who test positive do not in fact have the cancer. False-positive results, she says, can arise from noncancerous conditions such as endometriosis--a condition characterized by uterine cysts that spread throughout the abdominal cavity.
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Title Annotation:testing for the blood serum protein CA 125 as an indicator of ovarian cancer recurrence
Author:Ezzell, Carol
Publication:Science News
Date:Jun 1, 1991
Previous Article:Homing in on a key lung cancer gene.
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