Life-saving test


January 31st, 2012

Hundreds of lives could be saved each year, thanks to an online calculator that could help GPs identify women at risk of having ovarian cancer at a much earlier stage.
Academics from the University and ClinRisk Ltd have developed a QCancer algorithm (www.qcancer.org/ovary) using the UK QResearch database. The algorithm assesses patients’ symptoms and risk factors.
A study into the algorithm’s effectiveness, published online at BMJ.com, found that it was successful in predicting almost two-thirds of ovarian cancers in the 10% of women who were most at risk of having the disease over a two-year period.
Ovarian cancer is the seventh most common cancer in women worldwide and affects around 6,700 women in the UK every year, one of the highest rates in Europe.
GPs face the challenge of making a correct diagnosis as early as possible for a disease which has few established risk factors and a range of non-specific symptoms which could also point to a number of less serious and more common conditions. The disease is often not diagnosed until it is advanced, meaning that many patients’ chances of surviving for five years after diagnosis can be as low as six per cent.
Less than one-third of women are diagnosed in the first stages of the disease; 90% of those will survive to five years, showing that earlier diagnosis and treatment can have a dramatic impact on chances of survival.
Academics used anonymous data from 564 GPs using the QResearch® database system — a not-for-profit partnership between the University and leading GPs systems supplier EMIS. They included data for 30 to 84-year-olds who hadn’t been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and hadn’t had a ‘red flag’ symptom in the previous year. Risk factors included age, family history, previous diagnosis of a cancer, loss of appetite, weight loss, abdominal distension, rectal bleeding, postmenopausal bleeding and anaemia to predict which patients were most at risk of having ovarian cancer and combined these in the risk prediction algorithm.
The tool predicted 63% of ovarian cancers over the following two years which were in the top 10% of women found to be most at risk.
Similar scores using QResearch® have previously been effective in identifying patients at most risk of developing other cancers, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, fractures, kidney disease and blood clots.
The tool is in line with current Government policy and the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative (NAEDI), a public/third sector partnership between the Department of Health, National Cancer Action Team and Cancer Research UK.
Research lead Professor Julia Hippisley-Cox said : “We are very grateful for the continuing support of the EMIS GP practices that contribute their high quality data to QResearch. Without them, our research would not be possible.”

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