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Ovarian Cancer Health Center

Screening for Ovarian Cancer Saves Few Lives

New Model Suggests Screening Less Useful Than Previously Thought
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Ovarian Cancer: Two Diseases continued...

Instead of the 15% to 20% reduction in ovarian cancer deaths attributed to early screening based on the ‘one cancer’ model, the new model found that the death rate could be expected to fall by about 11% if annual screening using current strategies were routinely recommended for all postmenopausal women.

Havrilesky says this is because screening is more likely to pick up slow-growing cancers that are not as lethal.

The study appears online today in the online edition of the journal Cancer.

UK Trial Should Provide Some Answers

In the U.S., screening is generally reserved for women with a close family history of ovarian cancer or a genetic mutation that greatly increases their cancer risk.

Routine screening is not recommended for average-risk women.

Patricia Hartge, ScD, of the National Cancer Institute, tells WebMD that the Duke research adds to the evidence that more sensitive screening tests or strategies will be needed to significantly reduce deaths from ovarian cancer.

She says the U.K. study -- the largest ovarian cancer screening trial ever conducted -- should provide more answers when mortality data become available in 2014.

Instead of referring women for biopsy when CA-125 rises beyond a specific threshold, as researchers in a large U.S. trial did, investigators in the U.K. trial are watching to see how fast CA-125 levels rise.

“This approach involves fewer ultrasounds and fewer (exploratory) surgeries,” Hartge says. “We will know in a few years if it impacts survival.”

Havrilesky says she is cautiously optimistic that efforts to recognize ovarian cancer in its very early stages will help identify women who would benefit from prevention efforts such as surgical removal of the ovaries.

Until then, American Cancer Society Director of Cancer Screening Robert A. Smith, PhD says women should know the  symptoms that might be early warning signs of ovarian cancer, including:

  • Abdominal, pelvic, and back pain
  • Bloating and swelling
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms

Of course, these symptoms are also commonly associated with other, far less serious conditions. But Smith says women with daily symptoms lasting more than a few weeks should see their doctor.

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