Even in advanced stages, the symptoms of ovarian cancer—including feeling bloated, a swollen stomach, and needing to urinate more frequently—are often mistaken for less serious ailments. Researchers say they hoped large-scale screening would save lives, and they were "deeply disappointed" when that didn't turn out to be the case, the BBC reports. The University College London researchers recruited 200,000 postmenopausal women for the study, reports the Guardian. Some of them received annual blood tests for the cancer-related protein CA125 and were sent for ultrasounds if they tested positive. But over the 20 years of the study, there was no significant reduction in deaths among the group who were screened compared to the half of participants who were not screened annually. The disease kills around 4,000 women a year in the UK alone.
In a study published in the Lancet, researchers say "general population screening cannot be recommended" based on the results. Researchers plan to look at other screening methods, but "realistically, this means we have to reluctantly accept that population screening for ovarian cancer is more than a decade away," says Prof. Ian Jacobs, from the University of New South Wales. He says the result "is deeply disappointing and frustrating given the hope of all involved that we would save the lives of thousands of women." The screening detected 39% more cancers at an early stage and while this didn't result in fewer deaths, researchers say early diagnosis can make a big difference to patients' quality of life. They say there were better outcomes among those whose cancers were detected early through symptoms, making it all the more important to raise awareness of the common symptoms and refer patients to an oncologist. (Read more ovarian cancer stories.)