September 11, 2012 — Screening tests for ovarian cancer do not reduce death rates but often produce false-positive results that lead to unnecessary procedures with high complication rates, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said Monday in a recommendation against the tests, the New York Times reports (Grady, New York Times, 9/10).
Just over 1% of women develop ovarian cancer, but the symptoms typically do not appear until the cancer already has spread, which makes it difficult to treat (Joelving, Reuters, 9/10). The mortality rate is higher for ovarian cancer than for any other gynecological cancer, and it is the fifth-leading cause of death from cancer among women (Sun, Washington Post, 9/10).
"There is no existing method of screening for ovarian cancer that is effective in reducing deaths," USPSTF Chair Virginia Moyer said (New York Times, 9/10).
Moyer noted that "no major organization anywhere ... recommends screening for ovarian cancer," but "it does get done." The two most common methods of testing -- transvaginal ultrasound and a blood test called CA-125 -- "actually result in greater harm than benefit," she said (Reuters, 9/10).
Details of Recommendation
USPSTF relied heavily on data from a 2011 study of 78,216 women to form its recommendation. The study found that about 10% of women who were screened received a false-positive diagnosis that resulted in surgery, usually to remove one or both ovaries. In 15% of those cases, women had serious complications from the surgery, such as blood clots, infections and injuries to other organs. There was no difference in death rates among women who were screened and those who were not (New York Times, 9/10).
The task force's recommendation affirms a draft statement it released in April that concluded there was no new evidence to support changing a 2004 recommendation against ovarian cancer screening. The recommendation applies to asymptomatic women and those without known risk factors (Bankhead, MedPage Today, 9/10).
Women's health advocates said the recommendation underscores the need to develop better screening tools (Washington Post, 9/10).
The recommendation is the latest from USPSTF to challenge routine cancer screenings. The panel also has rejected routine testing for prostate cancer and routine mammograms for women younger than age 50 (New York Times, 9/10).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership