Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The dangers of some ovarian cancer screening methods

It's always a good thing when there is a way to avoid a late-stage diagnosis of any disease, and ovarian cancer is no exception. But before you push your doctor for the procedure, read The Skeptical OB's synopsis of a new study explaining the risks. The screening injures 2-20 times as many women as the disease, depending on the detection method, with only twice as many dealing with cancer than dealing with adverse side effects of the surgical screening outcome, and the number of true diagnoses is rather small (0.05% of all women screened) to begin with.

"The study screened more than 100,000 postmenopausal women for ovarian cancer. Half had ultrasound and CA125 tests (multimodal screening); the other half had ultrasound alone. Ovarian cancer was detected in 87 women, 42 in the multimodal group and 45 in the ultrasound alone group... in order to make those diagnoses, 942 women had surgery. In other words, 855 women had major abdominal surgery for no reason. Of those, 24 experienced major complications including perforation of an organ (requiring surgery for repair), hemorrhage, deep vein thrombosis, and pulmonary embolus."

"Screening hurt far more women than were helped. For every woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, 9 more had surgery that they didn’t need, and 2.8% of women who had unnecessary surgery sustained serious, life threatening surgical complications."
What does this mean? It means the medical community has more work to do to figure out how to detect ovarian cancer at an early stage. However, if you do get screened for ovarian cancer, get both an ultrasound and the CA125 blood test, as multimodal screening decreases the risk of unneeded abdominal surgery and both tests are relatively noninvasive.

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