Studies show there is only modest evidence that screening of asymptomatic women with tests like serum CA-125 level or transvaginal ultrasound can detect ovarian cancer at an earlier stage than it can be detected without screening.
"Screening everybody for ovarian cancer is not going to eradicate it because our screening tests are, frankly, not that good,” Dr. Joseph says. "If we did do screening tests on everyone, we would incur a tremendous economic burden in this country. We don't have enough resources for that, and we still would not stamp out ovarian cancer."
Moreover, he adds, false positives can lead to more stressful, costly, and perhaps unnecessary procedures. At some point, the potential harms of screening outweigh the potential benefits. "It's a psychological burden and economic burden," he notes, to chase down suspicious results that are unlikely to be cancer.
But, Dr. Joseph adds, doctors today have strong guidelines to help identify women who should have regular ovarian cancer screening. For example, those with a strong family history of ovarian and breast cancer and those who are known carriers of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes should discuss ovarian cancer prevention and screening with their doctors.
Photo: Rawlins PHD/Getty Images