A blood test which can detect ovarian cancer two years earlier than current methods could be used to screen women, scientists hope.
Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast have found that measuring four proteins together can pick up cancer early, when nine in 10 women will survive.
Ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest because symptoms are vague or absent so it is often not diagnosed until later stages, when the chance of surviving for five years is just 22 per cent.
Current blood tests which look for elevated levels of a protein called CA125 have drawbacks because the protein is also elevated in pregnancy and during menstruation.
Researchers analysed blood samples from 80 women over a seven year period and developed an algorithm which flags abnormal levels of proteins.
Dr Bobby Graham said it could eventually be used to screen women annually.
“We are extremely excited about these results, however, they are at an early stage," he said.
“This needs to be tested in separate larger cohorts which we are currently doing.”
The test detects Epithelial Ovarian Cancer (EOC), the type of ovarian cancer that most women will get. In 2016, 4227 deaths were reported as a result of EOC.
If diagnosed at stage one of EOC, there is a 90 per cent chance of five-year survival compared to 22 per cent if diagnosed at a stage three or four.
Dr Rachel Shaw, Research Information Manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Around half of ovarian cancer cases are picked up at a late stage, when treatment is less likely to be successful. So developing simple tests like these that could help detect the disease sooner is essential.
"At Cancer Research UK, we’re working hard to find new ways to detect cancer early and improve the tests already available. It’s really exciting to see these encouraging results for this type of ovarian cancer.”
The research was carried out in partnership with the University of New South Wales Australia, University of Milan, University of Manchester and University College London and published in the journal Nature.
Commenting on the study, Annwen Jones, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “Progress is desperately needed in detecting ovarian cancer earlier.
“These are very promising early results, but the number of women involved is still too small. Further research would be needed to see if this could be the new, safe and effective diagnostic test that women deserve, and which could be used in ovarian cancer screening.”