Screens can’t catch Ovarian Cancer

May 6th, 2009 | Sources: Obstetrics & Gynecology


Data from a large NIH-sponsored study has shown that annual screening for ovarian cancer fails to detect early-stage disease and generates frequent, unnecessary surgeries to boot.

anfinovariancancerscreeningIn a study conducted by Edward Partridge and colleagues at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, more than 70% of cancers detected by transvaginal ultrasound and CA 125 biomarker testing were stage III or IV at the time of diagnosis.

That’s about what happens when women aren’t screened at all.

“These data suggest we need a better screening tool,” Partridge said in a statement picked up by MedPageToday. “We need a test that is more sensitive and more specific so we find the cancer earlier and we catch the biological markers that give us stronger clues.”

The write-up is in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The scientists enrolled 34,261 healthy women with intact ovaries who were between the ages of 55 and 74.

Compliance with both screening tests was 83% at baseline and stayed high at 78% through the fourth round.

In Year 1 of the program, positive test results obligated 566 surgical procedures which uncovered only 18 cancers, more than 80% of which were stage III or IV.

In the subsequent 3 years, 604 surgeries followed a positive test result, and 42 invasive cancers were found. Here again, most of the malignancies were stage III or higher.

On the false-negative side of things, overall, 89 cases of ovarian cancer were diagnosed during the study, and a third of them had been missed altogether by both screening modalities.

The study’s primary endpoint, which is impact of annual screening on ovarian cancer mortality, has yet to be determined. Bet the house on no impact.


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