Ovarian Cancer Research Shows Screenings May Be Harmful
September 12, 2012

Ovarian Cancer Research Indicates Routine Screening May Do More Harm Than Good

Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently issued a recommendation for adult women stating that routine screenings for ovarian cancer do not have any proven benefits and may actually have harmful effects.

The Task Force is composed of national experts from preventive and evidence-based medicine who focus on providing recommendations on clinical preventive services. The recommendation, featured in Screening for Ovarian Cancer, included a review of research studies on ovarian cancer. The task force wanted to evaluate whether ovarian screenings were statistically helpful.

The current existing methods for screening have been deemed largely ineffective for early recognition of ovarian cancer, and researchers demonstrated that the screenings commonly lead to false positive results and unnecessary medical procedures.

The task force gave the screening a letter grade of “D”, stating that it had more drawbacks than benefits. According to The Huffington Post, the Task Force took a similar stance in a study conducted in 2004 that advised against routine screening for ovarian cancer.

"Screening for ovarian cancer is not a good use of a patient's or a doctor's time or resources," Dr. Virginia Moyer, a member of the task force, commented in The Huffington Post article. "It does not improve mortality, and no major organization recommends it."

Two tests in particular have been used to screen for ovarian cancer. The first, an ultrasound, uses a device to target organs inside the pelvic area with the help of sound waves. The sound waves bounce off the organs, allowing a computer to produce an image that is intended to help doctors diagnose whether the ovary is normal or abnormal.

The second screening technique, is a blood test that looks for high levels of the antigen protein CA-125 in women, which can signal the possibility of ovarian cancer. However, high levels of CA-125 do not necessarily mean that a patient has ovarian cancer and may also be related to liver problems or pregnancy.

The task force also highlighted the negative effects of screening females for ovarian cancer. Results from the exams can sometimes lead to a false-positive result, or indications that there is ovarian cancer even if there is no cancer present in the ovaries. To determine whether or not the exam results are correct, women commonly have to undergo surgery that often proves to be unnecessary. Surgical procedures commonly include risks such as blood clotting, infections or, in this case, the removal of a healthy ovary.

As the name indicates, ovarian cancer affects the female´s ovaries, which are located on either side of the uterus and act in producing, storing and releasing eggs. According to the Task Force, ovarian cancer is difficult to detect as it does not demonstrate any easily detectible signs early on. Due to the lack of symptoms in early stages, ovarian cancer often goes undiagnosed until it is already in advanced stages.