Researchers at Atlantic Health System are looking for women who want to help prevent deaths from ovarian cancer. Early detection is the goal.

The Atlantic Center for Research needs healthy, post-menopausal women, ages 50-74, for an ongoing study aimed at increasing the effectiveness of ovarian-cancer screening. 

Modern medicine's most promising method of detecting early stages of ovarian cancer is by detecting high levels of the protein ca-125 in a woman's blood. So the University of Texas' MD Anderson Cancer Center, which developed the ca-125 blood test, has been working with several hospitals nationwide to increase its understanding of this protein and its relationship to ovarian cancer. 

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“It does this by creating a profile based on blood levels of ca-125 and background health information,” said Daniel Tobias, MD, chief of gynecologic oncology at Overlook Medical Center in Summit and Morristown Medical Center. “That can help physicians decide who should be tested and how often.” 

Why is the ca-125 test so important? Most ovarian cancer is detected too late, at stage 3 or 4, which has a 75 percent chance of recurrence after treatment. Usually, the ca-125 blood test is only used in women who have had ovarian cancer or who show symptoms already. A high ca-125 marker may indicate the need for further testing, but then it is usually already late-stage cancer.

“This study is unique because it looks at the rate of increase in ca-125 levels over time,” add Dr. Tobias. “We want to know if a steady increase indicates an early stage cancer, before the levels are high and it’s already a late stage cancer.”

When treated in the earliest stages, the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is over 90 percent.  If found and treated in the later stages, the survival rate can be as low as 18 percent. Unfortunately, only 15 percent of cases are found at this early stage due to ovarian cancer’s non-specific symptoms and lack of early detection tests.  

Volunteers for the study would come to one of Atlantic Health System's four hospitals – Overlook, Morristown, Chilton and Newton – once a year to have blood drawn and to answer a questionnaire. But some may be asked to return sooner for additional blood work or an ultrasound. New volunteers will be studied and quizzed for three to five years.

There is no stipend for participating; most of the women step forward in honor of a loved one who has been stricken with ovarian cancer. 

Atlantic Health System is one of 12 institutions nationwide -- and the only one in the tri-state region and Pennsylvania in the study – and currently has about 800 women participating. By the time this 15-year study is completed, about 14,000 women nationwide will have participated.   

To join the study, please call 973-971-6491 or email ovarian.screening@atlantichealth.org.

 

Daniel Tobias, MD is Chair of Gynecologic Oncology at Overlook Medical Center and Morristown Medical Center and Medical Director of the Women’s Cancer Centers at Atlantic Health System.  Dr. Tobias has offices in Summit and Morristown.