U.S. Medical Advisors Say Ovarian Cancer Screening For Healthy Women May Cause More Harm Than Good

By admin
September 15, 2012

Healthy women should not be routinely screened for ovarian cancer because it won't reduce their risk of dying from the disease, and may even put them at increased risk for unnecessary harm, such as major surgery, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force announced Monday.

The findings, published on Sept. 11 in Annals of Internal Medicine, reaffirms the panel's 2004 recommendation discouraging screening in women at average risk for ovarian cancer, which has the highest mortality rate of all types of gynecological cancer and is the fifth-leading cause of cancer death among women.

While the task force made the same recommendation in 2004, the panel's latest recommendation is based on the largest clinical trial to date, with half of the 78,216 women in the trial screened with transvaginal ultrasounds and a blood test called CA-125, and the other half not screened at all.

“It was a pretty definitive study. It confirmed what we thought was the case,” said Virginia Moyer, the panel chair.

The group found no evidence that such screening methods would reduce a healthy woman's risk of dying from ovarian cancer compared to women who weren't screened.

"It made no difference in the outcome,” Moyer said, adding that, "There is no existing method of screening for ovarian cancer that is effective in reducing deaths."

But a high percentage of women who undergo screening experience false-positive tests that then require invasive testing, such as major surgery to open up the abdomen and take out the ovary, she said.

“That puts those women at increased risk for being harmed. That’s major surgery.”

Despite the task force's recommendations against routine screening--what it refers to as a "Grade D" recommendation--the information does not apply to women who are showing symptoms or genetically at a higher risk for ovarian cancer.

“The important thing to remember is that if women do have symptoms or have a family history of ovarian cancer, they need to see a doctor,” said Pat Goldman, founder of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. Symptoms include persistent urinary or bowel changes or pelvic pain, or a feeling of fullness when you haven’t eaten.

Talk to your Women's HealthFirst doctor if you experience any of these symptoms or are genetically at a higher risk for ovarian cancer to determine the best course of action for you.

[image via istockphoto]

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