Study: Early screening for ovarian cancer may do more harm than good



Bio | Email

Posted on December 30, 2009 at 6:40 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 30 at 6:51 PM

Every year, more than 20,000 women find out they have ovarian cancer. For almost two-thirds of them, it's a deadly diagnosis. But unlike other cancers, doctors say yearly screening for ovarian cancer may do more harm than good.

Amy Brannock is a musician, artist and two-time ovarian cancer survivor.

"I actually went to the emergency room thinking I had appendicitis, and that was when they did a CT scan and found a tumor," said Brannock.

After a hysterectomy and chemo, the CA-125 blood test showed she'd beat it.

"So, I thought, 'OK, we've got it treated. I'm good to go,'" said Brannock.

For three years, Brannock went on thinking she was cancer-free, but all along, the test was lying.

"Amy's CA-125 has been normal just like any normal person," said Dr. Daniel Clarke-Pearson, gynecologic oncologist.

It wasn't until she felt a lump in her neck that her doctors realized the cancer was back with a vengeance.
Typically doctors preach about cancer screening, but according to his study in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Clarke-Pearson says the average woman should not be tested for ovarian cancer.

"I say don't get tested because it leads to a lot of unnecessary surgery, and on one hand, the testing could lead to a false sense of security," said Clarke-Pearson.

The standard blood test misses up to 50 percent of early ovarian cancers. Abnormal ultrasound readings are wrong up to 90 percent of the time.

"That's what's so insidious about this particular cancer. It's so sneaky," said Clarke-Pearson.

Brannock's cancer is incurable, but with regular treatment, she's striving for many more years of music and memories.

Doctors say screening is recommended in certain cases - that includes women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer and those with mutations in the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes. 

Symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague, but they include pelvic or stomach pain, bloating, feeling full soon after eating and urgent urinary frequency.