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Women shouldn't get ovarian cancer screening, panel says

Women who aren't at a heightened risk for ovarian cancer should not undergo screening tests for the disease, according to recommendations released April 10 by a government-appointed panel of experts.

The panel, known as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, concluded the harms of screening for ovarian cancer, which include false positive tests and unnecessary surgeries, outweigh the benefits.

Although ovarian cancer has a high death rate, the disease prevalence is low, and most women who receive a positive screening test would later learn the result is a false-positive, meaning they do not actually have cancer, the task force said.

Today's recommendations reaffirm the panel's 2004 recommendation, which also advised against screening for ovarian cancer in the general population. The recommendations do not apply to women with risk factors for the condition, such as a family history of the disease or genetic mutations, such has versions of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

A draft of the recommendations has been posted on the task force website for public comment.

Screening tests for ovarian cancer include a transvaginal ultrasound and a blood test for a protein called (CA)-125. The most recent evidence shows these tests do not reduce deaths from the disease, the Task Force said.

A 2011 study of more than 78,000 women found diagnosis of and deaths from ovarian cancer did not differ between the group assigned to receive ovarian cancer screening (transvaginal ultrasound or (CA)-125), and a comparison group not assigned to screening.

In that study, 10 percent of screened women had a false-positive test, and one third of those women had surgery to remove an ovary.

A 2008 study of women in Japan found 33 surgeries were needed to diagnose one case of cancer detected by screening, the task force said. (Surgery is needed to confirm a diagnosis of ovarian cancer suggested by screening tests.) 

The tasks force recommendations are in line with those of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which does not recommend screening for women without symptoms of the condition, and the American Cancer Society, which recommends screening for women only if they are at high risk for ovarian cancer or have persistent symptoms.

Pass it on:  Women in the general population should not be screened for ovarian cancer.