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Ovarian Cancer Screen: Risks May Outweigh Benefits

Screenings Don’t Cut Deaths Among Average-Risk Women and Sometimes Lead to Unnecessary Medical Procedures, NCI Study Finds

Screening: More Harm Than Good?

More than 3,000 women had additional evaluations based on the screening findings and about half of these women had exploratory surgery.

Surgery confirmed ovarian cancer in 388 women, but 1,080 women without cancer ended up having surgical procedures and 163, or about 15%, experienced serious complications as a result.

These complications included infection, bowel injury, and cardiovascular events, Berg tells WebMD.

In addition to being presented at the ASCO meeting, the study will appear in the June 8 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Gynecologic oncologist and pelvic surgeon Elizabeth A. Poynor, MD, of New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital, calls the ovarian cancer screening trial results disappointing but not unexpected.

‘All Hope Not Lost’

Poynor says more frequent screening with CA125 and ultrasound may benefit women at high risk for developing ovarian cancer because of family history.

And major advances in ultrasound imaging in recent years may prove beneficial for screening all women.

“All hope is not lost for these tools or for ovarian cancer screening in general,” Poynor tells WebMD. “We may not know the best way to use them at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they should be thrown out.”

What Women Can Do

Ovarian cancer is often called the ‘silent killer,’ but there is a growing recognition that many women do experience symptoms when the disease is still highly curable, Poynor says.

The problem is that many of the symptoms are also common among women without ovarian cancer, including:

  • Back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Pelvic pain
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Urinary urgency

Studies suggest that these symptoms can be more severe or frequent early in the course of ovarian cancer and researchers are exploring ways to screen based on this recognition.

“Women need to know the early warning signs and symptoms of this disease, and they need to listen to their bodies,” Poynor says. “Symptoms that are persistent or different should be discussed with a health care practitioner.”

And it is important that women know their family history of ovarian and breast cancer to help their practitioner assess their risk.

Poynor says women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer may want to consider testing to determine if they are genetically predisposed to develop the diseases.

She adds that high-risk and average-risk women who qualify for ovarian cancer screening trials should consider joining one.

“We need information, and these trials are the way we will get it,” she says.

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