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New phase of Northern Ireland ovarian cancer screening trial launched

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by Cancer Research UK | News

10 September 2003

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The next phase of a major screening trial for ovarian cancer in Northern Ireland is launched by Cancer Research N. Ireland and the Medical Research Council.

In the first stage of the trial, a significant 5,000 women from Northern Ireland took part. The researchers behind the project are now launching a major recruitment drive in order to reach a target of recruiting 16,600 women in the Province.

Doctors hope the trial could lead to a nationwide ovarian cancer screening programme to save thousands of lives.

Ovarian cancer is known as the ‘silent killer’, because in many cases symptoms of the disease appear when it is too late for treatment to be curative. The disease has a low 5-year survival rate of 30 per cent.

Dr Stephen Dobbs, Consultant Gynaecologist at the Belfast City Hospital and leading local clinician on the trial, says: “Previous studies have suggested that, if successful, a nationwide screening programme could halve the death toll from ovarian cancer. The trial we are running in Belfast is part of the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS), designed to examine how effective such a programme would be.”

“It’s an exciting project, as the data produced will tell us whether it will be feasible to introduce an ovarian cancer screening programme available to all women in age groups at higher risk, similar to those currently offered for cervical and breast cancers.”

The trial is funded by Cancer Research N. Ireland and the Medical Research Council, with additional support from the NHS.

Women cannot volunteer to take part in the trial, but are randomly selected from participating GPs’ lists and invited to come forward by a letter received in the post. This is so that the trial can reflect the format of a nationwide trial offered to all women on the NHS.

Women who agree to take part in the trial are randomly allocated either to screening, or to follow up without screening. Women allocated to screening will initially receive either a blood test, an ultrasound scan or both.

Dr John Toy, Cancer Research N. Ireland’s Medical Director, says: “Screening for breast and cervical cancers is already saving many lives every year in Northern Ireland, through detecting the diseases early to give women the best chance of survival.

“We look forward to learning the results of this new trial. If successful it could lead to a nationwide screening programme to help more women survive ovarian cancer, which presently claims 100 lives each year in the Province.”


Notes to Editor:

The UKCTOCS trial is being co-ordinated through the Gynaecological Oncology Unit at Bart’s and the London Medical School, London.

The project is being funded by the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research N. Ireland and the NHS.

The locations of the 13 collaborating centres for the trial are:

  • Belfast
  • Liverpool
  • Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Bart’s London
  • Royal Free, London
  • Bangor, Wales
  • Manchester
  • Nottingham
  • Portsmouth
  • Cardiff
  • Gateshead
  • Middlesbrough
  • Derby

The UKCTOCS trial will take place over 10 years, at a total cost of £20 million. The Northern Irish part of the trial will cost £1 million. Recruitment for the trial began in 2001.

The UKCTOCS trial is sponsored by Cancer Research N. Ireland, the Medical Research Council and the NHS.