Newspaper article

Ovarian-Cancer Screening Tests Do More Harm Than Good, Experts Say

Newspaper article

Ovarian-Cancer Screening Tests Do More Harm Than Good, Experts Say

Article excerpt

Ovarian cancer screenings -- either an ultrasound examination of the ovaries or a special blood test that looks for proteins associated with cancer -- are not effective for women with an average risk of developing the disease and should not be routinely offered to them, a panel of government experts recommended on Monday.

Such screening does more harm than good, according to experts. It does not lower the death rate from the disease, but it does produce a high rate of false-positive results. Many women, therefore, end up undergoing unnecessary and risky surgery.

The evidence reviewed by the panel found that 10 percent of women receive false-positive results from ovarian cancer screening. One- third of those women then go on to have surgery to remove their ovaries. For every 20 women who have the surgery, one cancer is found. The surgery itself, however, leads to major medical complications for one of every five of the women who have it.

The panel's recommendation does not apply to women with symptoms of the disease. Nor does it apply to high-risk women -- those with a family history of the disease or a known genetic risk (such as an inherited BRCA gene mutation), although the panel found that high- risk women do not necessarily benefit from routine screening either. The experts recommended that high-risk women consider genetic counseling to further evaluate their ovarian-cancer risk -- and whether or not they want to be screened.

Not surprising

Monday's recommendation, made by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), is not a surprise. The panel made a similar recommendation in 2004 and 2008. In addition, no other major medical or public health group currently recommends ovarian screening for average-risk women. Yet despite this medical consensus, individual physicians often recommend ovarian screening to low-risk patients out of a mistaken belief that it saves lives.

A study published earlier this year that surveyed more than 1,000 family physicians, general internists and gynecologists found that one-third of the physicians believed that ovarian cancer screening was effective, despite evidence to the contrary. …

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