As the New York Times and other media outlets are reporting today, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has issued a new recommendation reaffirming its position that doctors should not offer two tests commonly used to screen for ovarian cancer transvaginal ultrasound and the CA125 blood test to healthy women.
It wasn’t surprising to read that the USPSTF has reaffirmed its recommendation. The Task Force has made the same recommendation since 2004, and there have not been any research findings that would alter their opinion. But it was appalling to hear doctors say they know physicians who still recommend the tests or who will do them if a woman asks for them.
The advice against testing doesn’t apply if you are experiencing symptoms that suggest you might have ovarian cancer, or you are at high risk for ovarian cancer because you carry a BRCA mutation or have a family history of the disease. That’s because there is a greater chance that you might have ovarian cancer, which changes the risk-benefit ratio.
But if you are healthy and not experiencing any symptoms, there is no evidence that having these tests will reduce your risk of dying of ovarian cancer. They just aren’t able to detect the cancer early enough. Moreover, they have a high rate of false-positive results, meaning women can end up having surgery to have their ovaries removed (and possibly suffer complications from these surgeries) yet never had cancer in the first place.
Ovarian cancer is very scary. Unlike breast cancer, it is typically not detected until the tumor is quite advanced. But having tests done simply because they are available is not a good reason to have them. Researchers need to find tests that work. And doctors need to stop offering tests to women that don’t do any good.