Ovarian Cancer Screenings Are Not Effective, Panel Says
Tests commonly recommended to screen healthy women for ovarian cancer do more harm than good and should not be performed, a panel of medical experts said on Monday. The screenings — blood tests for a substance linked to cancer and ultrasound scans to examine the ovaries — do not lower the death rate from the disease, and they yield many false-positive results that lead to unnecessary operations with high complication rates, the panel said.
“There is no existing method of screening for ovarian cancer that is effective in reducing deaths,” said Dr. Virginia A. Moyer, the chairwoman of the expert panel, the United States Preventive Services Task Force. “In fact, a high percentage of women who undergo screening experience false-positive test results and consequently may be subjected to unnecessary harms, such as major surgery.”
The advice against testing applies only to healthy women with an average risk of ovarian cancer, not to those with suspicious symptoms or those at high risk because they carry certain genetic mutations or have a family history of the disease.
The recommendations are just the latest in a series of challenges to cancer screenings issued by the panel, which has also rejected P.S.A. screening for prostate cancer in men and routine mammograms in women under 50. The task force is a group of 16 experts, appointed by the government but independent, that makes recommendations about screening tests and other efforts to prevent disease. Its advice is based on medical evidence, not cost.
The recommendations against screening for ovarian cancer were published on Monday in Annals of Internal Medicine. But the warning is not new; the panel is reaffirming its own earlier advice.
Although the task force has sometimes drawn fire in the past, particularly with its stand on mammograms, it has plenty of support in this case. Other medical groups, including the American Cancer Society and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have for years been discouraging tests to screen for ovarian cancer.
But some doctors continue to recommend screening anyway, and patients request it, clinging to the mistaken belief that the tests can somehow find the disease early enough to save lives. A report published in February in Annals of Internal Medicine, based on a survey of 1,088 doctors, said that about a third of them believed the screening was effective and that many routinely offered it to patients.