With four boisterous grandsons to keep up with, elderly parents to help care for, and a pet dog to exercise, Sue Edwards, pictured, is keen to stay healthy and active.
So when a letter arrived inviting her to take part in a large-scale clinical trial to help develop a blood test to detect early signs of ovarian cancer, she didn’t think twice about getting involved.
Currently, only half the 7,100 women diagnosed every year with ovarian cancer – which has few symptoms and is often detected too late to treat – survive beyond five years. It is the fifth most common cancer in women and strikes mainly post menopausal women.
But the grim survival rate could become a thing of the past following the partly NHS-funded trial involving 200,000 women.
Initial results have shown that the ROCA Test can detect almost nine in ten cases in post menopausal women over 50, even when they showed no noticeable signs.
A major problem with ovarian cancer is that signs – persistent pelvic and abdominal pain; increased abdominal size and persistent bloating; difficulty eating and quickly feeling full – often appear far too late.
Because they’re easily confused with irritable bowel syndrome, a GP may waste even more time ruling out food intolerances. Like most diseases, early detection can save lives.
If a GP suspects ovarian cancer, a blood test to measure the level of cancer-indicating protein CA125 in the blood is usually prescribed followed by an ultrasound if over a certain level. But this method is around only 41 per cent accurate.
The newly available ROCA test has been shown to be twice as effective as previous screening methods in picking up the disease.
Retired marketing manager Sue (63), from Abergavenny, South Wales, said ,“The letter came out of the blue. I’d no real reason to do it, other than wanting to give myself some peace of mind and help other women. I’ve no family history of ovarian cancer, but I’d heard it was known as the silent killer.”
She’d just turned 50 and was starting the menopause when she signed up to the trial and has been having an annual blood test ever since for “peace of mind.”
During the annual testing, one year Sue’s result didn’t come back normal. A second test a fortnight later did and she was reassured that it was probably because she’d been unwell with a virus, causing a false positive reading.
At the moment, though, the test is only available privately. After more trial results due out in December, it is hoped that the NHS will eventually roll out a national screening programme for women over 50 and to those with a high risk of ovarian cancer. This, however, could take years.
For women like Sue, who fears the cost will deter other women on a pension from taking the test, that day can’t come soon enough.
How to get the test
The ROCA Test costs £125 a year for one initial blood test and two follow-ups if the first result is abnormal. The test is done by a consultant, who will also charge a fee. For high-risk women, the yearly package is £345 and includes four-monthly tests.
To find out more, including where to get a test, visit www.therocatest.co.uk
Picture: Patrick Boyd