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Considering Early Detection of Relapsed Ovarian Cancer: A Review of the Literature
  1. Sandra M.E. Geurts, MSc*,
  2. Femmie de Vegt, PhD*,
  3. Anne M. van Altena, MD,
  4. Jos A.A.M. van Dijck, PhD*,
  5. Vivianne C.G. Tjan-Heijnen, MD, PhD,
  6. André L.M. Verbeek, MD, PhD* and
  7. Leon F.A.G. Massuger, MD, PhD
  1. *Departments of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and HTA and
  2. Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Nijmegen; and
  3. Departments of Division of Medical Oncology, Department of Internal Medicine, GROW - School for Oncology and Developmental Biology, Maastricht University Medical Centre, Maastricht, The Netherlands.
  1. Address correspondence and reprint requests to Sandra M.E. Geurts, MSc, Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and HTA, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, PO Box 9101, 6500 HB Nijmegen, The Netherlands. E-mail: S.Geurts{at}


Introduction: Patients treated for ovarian cancer with curative intent receive an intensive follow-up program in the years after treatment. However, the aimed improved survival through early detection of recurrence is subject to debate. Theoretically, the survival benefit depends on the lead time and the preclinical detection rate and on the effectiveness of recurrence treatment. This systematic review aimed at determining the effectiveness of early detection of recurrent ovarian cancer.

Methods: A systematic literature search in PubMed, EMBASE, MEDLINE, and the Cochrane Library was performed for articles published in 1985 to 2009 in English, German, or Dutch, excluding editorials, letters, and case reports.

Results: In total, 67 articles were included. Of 4 observational studies and 1 randomized controlled trial, only 1 observational study reported a better survival for patients who attended routine follow-up compared with those who did not. The sensitivity of cancer antigen 125 for a preclinical recurrence, based on 38 articles using 35 U/mL as a cutoff level, was 65%, with a median lead time of 3 months (range, 1-7 months). Seven studies showed that, on average, 67% (ranging from 20% to 80%) of the 798 relapsed patients had no clinical symptoms when recurrent ovarian cancer was diagnosed.

Conclusions: Routine follow-up may detect 2 of 3 recurrences asymptomatically with a lead time of 3 months. Recurrence treatment may extend survival by several months, but published studies did not show a survival advantage of early detection by routine follow-up examinations. Therefore, the content and aims of routine follow-up should be reconsidered, whereas routine cancer antigen 125 testing with the aim to improve life expectancy should be omitted.

  • Systematic review
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Routine follow-up
  • Lead time

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  • This study is funded by the Dutch Cancer Society, The Netherlands (KUN 2008-4086).

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