Examination room
Illustration: Istvan Banyai
Ovarian cancer is exremely deadly: Of the roughly 22,000 women diagnosed annually, 55 percent die within five years. One big reason is that doctors typically don't catch the cancer until it's advanced. All of which explains the excitement surrounding a new blood test for the disease developed at the Yale School of Medicine.

In a study published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, Yale researchers reported that ovarian tumors trigger the release of six distinct proteins into the blood. Their test—called OvaSure—appeared to be 99 percent accurate in detecting cancer in the women they screened. "We believe the test can spot new cancer cells growing inside the ovaries," says Gil Mor, MD, lead author and associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale.

But the FDA has taken exception, noting that few of the women tested fell into high-risk categories: having a history of ovarian or breast cancer, a close relative with ovarian cancer or who was diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50, a positive test for BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, or a diagnosis of hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer.

The concern is that OvaSure could indicate cancer where there's none, prompting invasive testing or unnecessary surgery. Until more research is completed, high-risk women should discuss options with a doctor.

Women should watch for these ovarian cancer symptoms:
  • Urinary urgency
  • Feeling full quickly
  • Pain during intercourse; low back pain
  • Persistent indigestion or unexplained changes in bowel habits
  • Loss of appetite; unexplained weight loss or gain
  • A persistent lack of energy