Should I have regular ovarian cancer screenings if I have no symptoms?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
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 healthcare services,” which include screenings for cancers. They have reaffirmed their 2004 position against regular screening for ovarian cancer, citing that it may cause more harm than good.

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 and 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, nondangerous 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.

If every postmenopausal woman, asymptomatic or symptomatic, received regular ovarian cancer screenings with currently available methods, the experts on from the USPSTF fear that a large number of women would undergo unnecessary anxiety and invasive biopsy procedures.
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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.