What is Project KOCA?

While there are several simple tests and procedures used to detect testicular cancer in males at early stages of development, there are no “authorized” tests made clinically available to women for early warnings about ovarian cancer in the United States, unless they have a family history of the disease.

One procedure – a simple blood test called a “Cancer Antigen 125″ (or “CA-125”) can help to measure the possible ovarian cancer presence at a very early stage of its development.

It is used, in fact, as a leading early warning test in a number of nations outside of the U.S.

While the U.S. medical community in general has mixed reactions about the use of the CA-125 test in early ovarian cancer detection, they have no such concerns about its use, once ovarian cancer has been diagnosed, or as a means of evaluating a patient’s progress as they proceed through chemotherapy treatment.

Had Bridget Nesko – a nurse by profession – had the opportunity of an early CA-125 blood test, that test would have indicated the cancer’s presence, leading her towards further examination, testing and earlier treatment.

About Project KOCA

The Bridget Nesko Memorial Scholarship Foundation, Inc. is evaluating the ways and means of implementing a revolutionary pilot program called “Project KOCA” – or Kick Ovarian Cancer’s Ass – to help make CA-125 blood testing easily available to women requesting such tests and exhibiting two or more early symptoms of ovarian cancer.

According to the Mayo Clinic and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, ovarian cancer rarely has noticeable symptoms when it is in its earliest stages. As the cancer progresses, subtle symptoms begin to appear, but still may not be noticed or may be blamed on other common conditions, such as constipation or an irritable bowel.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Abdominal bloating or swelling.
  • Pain in the abdomen, flank/back, kidney area or pelvis.
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Needing to – or having the feeling of needing to – urinate frequently.
  • Change in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea).
  • Change in menstrual periods.
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods.
  • Unintentional weight gain or loss.

Although the symptoms of ovarian cancer may be vague, particularly in the early stages, they are usually fairly constant and represent a change from how a woman may normally feel. Symptoms also worsen as the cancer progresses.

If women experience any of these symptoms every day, or almost every day, for more than two to three weeks, we urge them to speak with their doctor and specifically ask if you could have ovarian cancer. Request a CA-125 blood test.

Under the KOCA Program, CA-125 testing would be made available to candidates unable to afford such tests, and/or who are unable to locate a family physician, nurse practitioner, gynecologist, or oncologist willing to do such testing.

About the “Cancer Antigen 125” blood test

A CA 125 test measures the amount of the protein CA 125 (cancer antigen 125) in the blood. Traditionally, the test may be used to monitor certain cancers during and after treatment. In some situations, the test may be used to look for early signs of ovarian cancer in people with a high risk of the disease, have a family history of the disease, or have several of the tell-tale symptoms that suggest presence of the disease.

A convoluted “argument” about CA-125 timing

While many in the U.S. medical community suggest that a CA 125 test isn’t accurate enough to use for ovarian cancer screening in general because many conditions can increase the level of this protein, the test is used to track progress in chemotherapy treatment of ovarian cancer, and to test if ovarian cancer has returned to patients after treatment appeared to have “paused” progression of the disease.

Our question we are working to reach consensus on is, if CA-125 testing is useful in assessing the progress of treatment, or to check for cancer recurrence, why would it not be effective as a an “early warning” tool if ovarian cancer is suspected?

Some in the U.S. medical community say that, because some conditions that can cause an increase in CA 125 include many that aren’t cancerous, such as menstruation and uterine fibroids. Certain cancers, however, may also cause an increased level of CA 125, including endometrial, peritoneal and fallopian tube cancers.

Diagnosis of these conditions, however, would also be beneficial to a woman seeking answers and possible early diagnosis.

What happens if a CA-125 test result comes back with a relatively “high” reading?

As part of our KOCA Program, a copy of the applicant’s CA 125 test results would be provided to both the applicant and to their medical team, who should discuss the results with the applicant. If the CA 125 level is higher than it should be, the applicant’s condition that isn’t cancerous, or the test result could mean that you have ovarian, endometrial, peritoneal or fallopian tube cancer. A patient’s medical provider may recommend other tests and procedures to determine the diagnosis.

Generally speaking, the normal range of CA-125 is considered to be 0-35 units/mL, while a level above 35 units/mL is considered to be a high CA-125 level.

A number of conditions that aren’t cancerous can cause an elevated CA 125 level, including: Endometriosis, Liver disease, Menstruation, Pelvic inflammatory disease, Pregnancy and Uterine fibroids If a victim has been diagnosed with ovarian, endometrial, peritoneal or fallopian tube cancer, a decreasing CA 125 level often indicates that the cancer is responding to treatment. A rising level may indicate a return or continued growth of the cancer.

Other tests that medical teams will use to determine the likelihood of ovarian cancer would include non-invasive procedures, including: a medical history debrief and physical exam by a medical practitioner; consultation with a specialist; imaging tests, including an ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scans, a barium enema x-ray, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, a Chest x-ray (to evaluate possible spread if suspected), and finally, a positron emission tomography (PET) scan.

As a patient, what are the next steps?

First, see our page The Truth About Ovarian Cancer.

If a patient has a family history of ovarian cancer, and has two or more symptoms for more than two weeks, they are urged to contact their medical professional and share their concern about ovarian cancer.

The Foundation has created a Symptoms Journal which can be downloaded from the link below.

If a patient feels that they are not being heard, contact us and we can help you to locate a more responsive medical professional. Also, under the KOCA Program, CA-125 testing would be made available to candidates unable to afford such tests, or who are unable to locate a medical professional willing to offer such testing.

As a medical professional, what are your next steps?

If you are a medical professional and would like to join our team as a volunteer member of our Medical Advisory Board, or if you have questions, please feel free to contact us at: [email protected], or by phone, at (856) 595 2184.