U.S. medical advisors: Ovarian cancer screening for healthy women not beneficial

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(CBS News) Healthy women should not be routinely screened for ovarian cancer because it won't reduce their risk of dying from the disease, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force announced in a new statement Monday. They added that a positive test may do more harm than good.

The statement, published on Sept. 11 in Annals of Internal Medicine, reaffirms the panel's 2004 recommendation against ovarian cancer screening.

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Ovarian cancer is the fifth-most common cancer among women and causes more deaths than any other type of female reproductive cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health. Older women are at highest risk for developing the disease, with most deaths from ovarian cancer occurring in women 55 and older.

For the new review, the researchers searched studies conducted through 2011 on ovarian cancer screening and found no new evidence of benefits from the procedures, which may include a transvaginal ultrasound or a CA-125 blood test that looks for levels of a tumor marker.

The group found no evidence that such screening methods would reduce a healthy woman's risk of dying from ovarian cancer compared to women who weren't screened. One study the task force noted from the June 8, 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at more than 78,000 women ages 55 to 74 and found no significant difference in death rates between women screened with the aforementioned methods and women who received typical care.

That study, however, also found that 3,285 of those women experienced false-positive results. In 1,080 cases, the women had surgery, 163 of which experienced at least one serious complication

"There is no existing method of screening for ovarian cancer that is effective in reducing deaths," Dr. Virginia Moyer, chair of the task force who also serves as professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said in an emailed statement. "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 task force recommended against routine screening - what it refers to as a "Grade D" recommendation - but noted the information does not apply to women who are showing symptoms or genetically at a higher risk for ovarian cancer.

According to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, women the BRCA1 or BRCA 2 genes (which are also linked to breast cancer), those with an inherited condition called Lynch syndrome and women with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (HBOC) are considered high risk.

Other medical organizations including the American Cancer Society and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also do not recommend routine screening for average-risk women without symptoms.

"If patients request it, then I think a lot of times physicians feel it's just easier to order the test, particularly if it's covered by insurance, rather than taking the time to explain why it may not be good, that it could lead to inappropriate surgery, could lead to harm," Dr. Barbara A. Goff, a gynecologic oncologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle who was not involved in the new recommendations, told the New York Times. "I don't think they think through the consequences."

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has more information for patients on the new recommendation.

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