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Task force maintains recommendation: Don’t screen for ovarian cancer

Even though ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer-related death for women, a national task force upholds its recommendation against screening for it. That’s because the screening methods available create more problems than solutions, according to the statement.

Screening often leads to additional, unnecessary interventions — more often than finding cancer, says Dr. Jennifer Brown Broderick, a gynecologic oncologist with Rochester Regional Health.

“What we will find is other things: We’ll find ovarian cysts or we’ll find incidental things that will not likely be cancer. And they lead to intervention such as a laparoscopy or a surgery for an otherwise benign condition. All of those interventions come with risks themselves,” says Brown Broderick.

There are two ways to screen patients for ovarian cancer — an ultrasound and a blood test. But the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says that each test or a combination of both does not reduce ovarian cancer death.

“We need to change how often we have false positives. And we need a better positive predictive value for the test," says Dr. Richard Moore, chief of the gynecologic oncology division at the Wilmot Cancer Institute. "We’re just not there yet. It doesn’t mean we won’t be there in the future.” 

Moore is involved in a clinical trial that looks at the use of biomarkers in detecting ovarian cancer for low-risk women.

“As it stands today, I think those are the proper recommendations. I do think as more research becomes available that some data may point in the direction that screening is worthwhile,” Moore says.

The recommendation is only meant for women who are not considered high-risk for cancer. 

Karen Shakerdge covers health for WXXI News. She has spent the past decade asking people questions about their lives, as a documentary film producer, oral historian and now radio reporter.