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Can a pelvic exam detect ovarian cancer?

David A. Fishman, MD
Gynecologic Oncology
Unfortunately, pelvic examinations are not efficient in distinguishing an early or premalignant lesion from a normal ovary based on palpation. Evidence from a screening study at the Duke Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC) under contract to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), demonstrated that the sensitivity and specificity of detecting a pelvic mass based solely on a pelvic examination is 40% and 90%, respectively. The same study reported that a pelvic examination is able to distinguish between a benign and malignant mass with 58% sensitivity and 98% specificity. The low sensitivity percentages of 40% and 58% illustrate that a pelvic examination may very likely produce a false negative with serious medical consequences. This may result in a pelvic mass that is overlooked or a tumor that is incorrectly diagnosed as benign. Similarly, the specificity rates of 90% and 98%, which are below the required specificity for an effective screening test, are inefficient because of the likelihood of a false-positive result being produced. A false-positive result may either suggest a pelvic mass that does not actually exist or a diagnosis of a malignant tumor when in actuality the tumor is benign.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.