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Ovarian Cancer Screening Not Worth the Risk

Known in the medical community as the “silent killer,” ovarian cancer is the 5th leading cancer-caused death for women. In fact, by the end of this year, 22,000 women will be diagnosed. However, only 15% of ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed early enough to have a chance at survival. A new study, indicating that early detection efforts may be futile, actually recommends avoiding early detection methods altogether. The reporting council states that it is possible that current ovarian cancer screenings are not worth the risk.

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPTSF) originally took this stance in 2004. In a new report released, they are again recommending that patients avoid early detection testing for ovarian cancer. The report indicates that testing is a waste of both patient and doctor time as it does not improve mortality rates, and often results in false positives, as well as needless surgeries. Currently, testing is not recommended by any major organization, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Cancer Society.

Today, there are very few options for early ovarian cancer detection available. The two methods currently used are transvaginal ultrasounds and the C-125 blood test. The ultrasound is used to locate possible ovarian masses, while the C-125 blood test monitors protein levels, which tend to show up higher in ovarian cancer patients.

Unfortunately, neither method has proven to lower death rates associated with this type of cancer. The highester risk for patients involves the false positive readings. Many cases that were reviewed by the USPTSF involved false positives leading to major surgery and the removal of healthy, viable ovaries. During this review and follow up report, it was discovered that for every case of ovarian cancer, 33 women had ovarian surgery as a result of a false positive screening.

While ovarian cancer is still considered a rare condition (the risk of development is only 1 in 71), the common consensus is that more effective testing methods need to be developed. Women who have a family history of the disease, or carry inherited breast cancer genes (“BRCA” mutations) are encouraged to continue ovarian cancer discussions with their physicians. Because ovarian cancer has one of the lowest survival rates, hopefully more effective early detection screenings will be designed in the near future.

Sources: Medpage Today - Bloomberg Businessweek - Health - Huffington Post - Huff Post Women -
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