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Fighting Ovarian Cancer

The University of Kentucky Ovarian Cancer Screening Program, based at the Markey Cancer Center in Lexington, is the only program of its kind in the United States.

Since the program began more than two decades ago, nearly 200,000 free ultrasounds have been performed on more than 36,000 women at six locations throughout Kentucky. About 175 women enroll each month, and around 1,100 annual ultrasounds are performed each month for returning participants.

Currently, there are no national guidelines for ovarian cancer screening. The UK program is considered experimental, and its primary objective is to collect scientific data that could help to establish such guidelines. Nevertheless, there is mounting evidence that ovarian screening can save lives, says Dr. John R. van Nagell Jr., director of gynecologic oncology at the Markey Cancer Center, who heads the screening program.

“Ovarian cancer is very curable if it is caught in its early stages,” van Nagell says. “That’s why screening is important. Most women with ovarian cancer are not diagnosed until they have advanced disease where treatment is more difficult, and the chance of survival is limited. Screening improves detection of ovarian cancer at a stage when it is curable.”

The program began in 1987 when Virginia McCandless, then president of the Kentucky Extension Homemakers Association (KEHA), was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her struggle became KEHA’s cause, in partnership with local businesses statewide. Today, the program is supported through a combination of research grants, state funding, and donations to KEHA. In 2009, KEHA celebrated the $1 million milestone.


The Ovarian Cancer Screening Program has identified 64 cases of ovarian cancer, the majority of which were detected in the early stages.

The five-year survival rate for patients with ovarian cancer detected through screening is 82.4 percent, compared with 48.7 percent for Kentucky women in the UK Tumor Registry who did not receive screening.

For more information on ovarian screenings, call (800) 766-8279 (1-800-76-OVARY).

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