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Tuesday, 21 March, 2000, 13:28 GMT
Cancer screening trials to begin
Screening may save lives
A major new trial will establish whether screening postmenopausal women for ovarian cancer saves lives.

The results will be used to assess whether there should be an NHS national screening programme for the disease. However, complete data will not be available for 10 years.

Cancer: the facts
Ovarian cancer is the fourth most frequent cause of death from cancer in women, with almost 6,000 cases diagnosed every year.

Most women who develop this cancer have few symptoms until it has spread and it is then difficult to treat.

The hope is that early detection by screening will save lives.

The research, to be based at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London, will be headed by Professor Ian Jacobs of Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London.

At the end of this study we will have information about how many lives ovarian cancer screening could save

Professor Ian Jacobs
He said: "At the end of this study we will have information about how many lives ovarian cancer screening could save, how much this will cost, how women feel about screening and the associated complications of screening."

Professor Jacobs' team has been working on ovarian cancer screening since 1985. Their work suggests that screening could be a very effective way to save lives.

Large trial needed

However, a large trial is needed to fully test this theory.

Professor Ian Jacobs
Professor Ian Jacobs is confident that screening works

Professor Jacobs told the BBC: "It is a particularly difficult challenge to pick up cancer of ovary early because the ovaries are situated so deep inside the pelvis they are inaccessible.

"We have now reached the point at which we are very confident that using these screening tests we can pick up the cancer many months or years before it would otherwise have been diagnosed.

"The big challenge facing us now is to prove that by picking up the cancer early we can actually make a difference in terms of survival."

Ovarian cancer is nicknamed the 'silent killer' because it gives very few symptoms early on

Dr Lesley Walker
Dr Lesley Walker, head of scientific information at the Cancer Research Campaign, said: "Ovarian cancer is nicknamed the 'silent killer' because it gives very few symptoms early on and so is difficult to diagnose.

"Sadly this means that, for many women, it is only detected once it has spread and by then it is more difficult to treat.

"We are dedicated to finding a successful way of screening for the disease so that countless women's lives can be saved in the future."

The trial, known as the United Kingdom Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening, will involve 200,000 women from 12 collaborating centres in the UK. It will take about 10 years to complete.

The project will be a joint venture between the Medical Research Council, the Department of Health, the Cancer Research Campaign and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund.

Funding will be provided by the Department of Health and the Medical Research Council.

Women will not be able to volunteer to be screened but participants in the trial will be invited to take part from health authorities in 12 regions.

The women who agree to participate will then be randomly allocated either to annual screening or to follow up without screening.

Initial screening tests will involve either a blood test or ultrasound scan.

Anyone wanting more information on this ovarian cancer screening trial can ring the freephone Science Line helpline on 0808 800 4000.

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