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Detecting Cancer Cells
January 2002

Q. I know that you can get a blood test to detect cancer cells, called the C125 test. I would like to know if there is a newer or more positive blood test you can take?

A. This is a good question regarding detecting early cancer when treatment is more likely to be effective. The CA 125 test is a blood test looking for a "tumor marker" for ovarian cancer. Unfortunately it has not proven useful for cancer detection, as many women with early ovarian cancer will have a normal CA 125 test, and many healthy women will have an elevated CA 125 leading to much anxiety and unnecessary tests on healthy women. The CA 125 is a useful tool for monitoring women who are being treated for ovarian cancer however.

Other techniques with a good track record for cancer detection include:

  • regular physcial exams at intervals as recommended by your doctor
  • Pap smears done yearly in sexually active women or women over age 21
  • Mammograms every 1-2 years beginning at age 40
  • Colon cancer screening beginning at age 50 consisting of stool sample testing and direct colon exam
  • Prostate exam by physical exam beginning at age 50




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