Mass tests for ovarian cancer

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ALMOST 3,000 women investigated for fertility problems over the past 30 years are to be surveyed to establish whether they have gone on to develop ovarian cancer.

The study is the first major investigation of the link between infertility treatment and ovarian cancer to be carried out in the UK. Some specialists suspect that the high doses of female hormones used in infertility treatment may trigger the cancer later in life. Several overseas studies have suggested there is a link.

Nearly 6,000 women develop ovarian cancer each year and there are 4,000 deaths. Between one in ten and one in six women has difficulty conceiving and if a link were proved between infertility and the cancer it would mean they were more at risk than the average woman even before starting the treatments.

Professor Allan Maclean, of the Royal Free and University College Medical School, who is co-ordinating the study with Dr Isabel Dos Santos Silva of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "The consequences of that would be far-reaching and serious and it will be even more important that women get the proper support and advice.

"In recent years the number of infertility programmes has increased and if we find there is a relationship with cancer risk it will have major implications for those programmes."

The average woman has a one in 56 chance of developing ovarian cancer in her lifetime.

The study in the UK, funded by the Cancer Research Campaign, will use records collected between 1963 and 1993 of 2,700 women treated by a London- based infertility specialist, Dr Jean Ginsburg. Of these, 700 were given fertility drugs - gonadotrophins - to stimulate their ovaries.

Dr Ginsburg followed up the women for 20 years. The research team will check the national cancer register to see how many of the women contracted the disease.