Ovarian cancer tests may do more harm than good

There's No Substitute for Experience

On Monday a group of experts reaffirmed their earlier opinion on the fact that screenings on healthy women for ovarian cancer may actually do more harm than good. The idea is that not only do these test sometimes result in a false-positive and unnecessary surgeries, but that the death rate for ovarian cancer does not change whether or not someone has been tested.

For these recommendations, the panel of 16 experts who are independent, but appointed by the government, heavily relied on a study published in 2011 that included 78,216 women between the ages of 55 and 74. Half went through the blood test for the substance known as CA-125, which can be a sign of ovarian cancer.

The women in the study were followed for 11 to 13 years. It was found there was no advantage or disadvantage between the groups who were tested and those who were not. However, the complications from a false-positive were made apparent.

Of the roughly 39,000 women who were screened, 10 percent received false-positive results. Of those 3,285 women to receive false-positives, 1,080 went through a surgery to have one or both of their ovaries removed. Of those, about 15 percent had a serious complication due to the surgery, which wasn't even really necessary. However, it wasn't until after the ovaries were removed that the women learned the surgery was not needed.

The recommendation to not screen healthy women for ovarian cancer is not anything new either, as the 16 expert-panel previously made this very same recommendation. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Cancer Society also feel the same way.

Dr. Barbara A. Goff, who is a gynecologic oncologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said she thinks the problem is that many times patients request the blood tests, and rather than explain why it may not be the best idea, doctors just put the possible consequences of a false-positive aside and order the tests.

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