Researchers tout effectiveness of free screenings for ovarian cancer

lblackford@herald-leader.comOctober 22, 2013 

In this 2006 file photo, state Rep. Addia K. Wuchner was screened for ovarian cancer by Barbara Argo, registered diagnostic medical sonographer, as part of the Ovarian Cancer Screening Program initiated at University of Kentucky in 1987. A 26-year research study at UK has found that annual screenings can detect ovarian cancer at an earlier stage than is possible with a clinical examination. So far, more than 241,000 free screening examinations have been provided by the UK Markey Cancer Center's Ovarian Screening Program to more than 41,000 Kentucky women. Through the screenings, 558 ovarian tumors and 86 malignancies have been detected.

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A 26-year research study at the University of Kentucky has found that annual screenings can detect ovarian cancer at an earlier stage than is possible with a clinical examination.

So far, more than 241,000 free screening examinations have been provided by the UK Markey Cancer Center's Ovarian Screening Program to more than 41,000 Kentucky women. Through the screenings, 558 ovarian tumors and 86 malignancies have been detected.

Currently, screenings are performed at seven locations throughout the state, including Lexington, Elizabethtown, Somerset, Prestonsburg, Maysville, Paducah and Greenup.

Screenings can be critical because ovarian cancer has no symptoms until it is well-advanced. Ovarian cancer is ranked fifth among cancer killers for American women and accounts for more cancer-related deaths than any other gynecological malignancy. When caught early, ovarian cancer can usually be treated successfully.

First Lady Jane Beshear visited UK Tuesday to encourage more women to get the free screenings.

"Often times, women put their families' needs before their own, which can cause easily detectable illnesses to go untreated and possibly cause severe or terminal health risks," Beshear said. "This preventative ovarian cancer screening is free, quick and confidential — an easy way for women to protect themselves from this life-threatening illness."

Markey's Ovarian Screening Program was initiated in 1987 by Dr. John R. van Nagell, Jr., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the UK Markey Cancer Center, and his colleagues. The goal was to study whether transvaginal sonography (TVS) could be an effective means of early ovarian cancer detection.

During the examination, a small vaginal probe is used to take a sonographic picture of the ovaries, and to measure ovarian volume. This procedure is able to detect ovarian tumors even when they are too small to be diagnosed during a clinical exam.

Van Nagell said the survival rate of women in the program whose ovarian cancer was detected by screening is significantly higher than that of women from the same geographic area who received the same treatment but who did not have a screening.

Initial funding for the program came from the Telford Foundation and the Kentucky Extension Homemakers, who have supported it by participating in regular screenings and donating $1 per member annually. Continued funding comes from the Kentucky General Assembly.

The Ovarian Cancer Screening Program is open to women age 50 or older, or women over the age of 25 who have a family history of ovarian cancer. Screening is free. For more information, call (859) 323-4687 or (800) 766-8279.

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford

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