The Case For and Against Ovarian Cancer Screenings

The United State Preventative Services Task Force recently reaffirmed their recommendation against routine screenings for ovarian cancer. What does this decision mean for you and your health?

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Ovarian cancer is considered a “silent killer” because many of its victims are not diagnosed until it has already reached an advanced stage. Its preliminary symptoms are nonspecific and are very commonly missed and misdiagnosed by doctors everywhere. However, does it make sense for doctors to screen every asymptomatic postmenopausal woman in the United States for this deadly disease? A panel of experts say no.

The United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) is a respected panel of physicians that review “a broad range of clinical preventative health care services,” which include screenings for cancers. This week, they reaffirmed their 2004 position against regular screening for ovarian cancer – citing that it may cause more harm than good.

Ovarian cancer is the ninth leading cause of death for women, but the fifth leading cause of cancer death for women. The American Cancer Society estimates that 22,280 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer and 15,500 women will die from this cancer in 2012. On The Dr. Oz Show, we’ve discussed the warning signs of ovarian cancer and the three tests that can save your life, which are listed below.

The experts reviewed research on the effects of regularly screening postmenopausal women. One major study from the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial screened more than 28,000 women between the ages of 55 to 74 years old with no symptoms. The researchers screened them for ovarian cancer with either a transvaginal ultrasound, a blood test for cancer marker CA-125, or both. Those with signs that were concerning for ovarian cancer received surgical biopsies of their ovaries to test for cancer. Less than a third of women who received biopsies after getting positive testing results actually had an invasive cancer. This means most women had received unnecessary biopsies due to false positive results with current screening technology.

Why so many false positives? One reason includes the tests’ ability to find more common benign conditions that happen to look like cancer, like ovarian cysts, non-dangerous tumors, and normal variations. Normal healthy women have a wide range of already-existing CA-125 levels in their body, which makes it difficult for experts to agree on a level of CA-125 in the blood that would definitely indicate cancer without inadvertently excluding women with existing cancer.