There are well-established screening programs for certain cancers, such as breast, colon, and cervical cancer. Screening includes colonoscopies, mammograms, Pap tests, and other diagnostic tests. These can help prevent cancer from occurring or detect cancer at an early stage when treatment is more effective.
Since most people are familiar with these screening tests, it is common for women to wonder if they too need to be screened for ovarian cancer. The short answer is “no.” There is no universal screening program for ovarian cancer.
The effectiveness of a cancer screening program depends on many factors. These factors include the frequency of cancer, how well health care professionals understand cancer progression, the behavior of cancer, available testing options, and the ease of access to affected organs. will appear.
Ovarian cancer screening programs are ineffective for several reasons. Current testing options often have high rates of false-positive and false-negative results. Ovarian cancer is also a relatively rare disease in which precancerous cells do not develop predictably and it is difficult to obtain tissue samples from the ovaries.
How common is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a rare disease that affects approximately 10 cases per 100,000 women per year in the United States. The National Cancer Institute estimates that approximately 1% of women will develop ovarian cancer during their lifetime.
What tests can help detect ovarian cancer?
The most appropriate tools for detecting ovarian cancer are imaging tests such as ultrasound and tumor markers found in the blood, such as cancer antigen 125 or CA 125.
Ultrasound is good for identifying cysts and other masses that are growing on the ovary. The difficulty is that such masses are very common and most are not cancerous. The appearance of an ovarian mass can give clues about the possibility of cancer, but it is often difficult to distinguish between cancerous and noncancerous masses on ultrasound.
What is CA125?
CA 125 is a protein in your blood that can be elevated if you have ovarian cancer. However, it can also be raised by other conditions such as menstruation, uterine fibroids, and endometriosis, which can lead to false-positive results. Early detection is the goal of any good screening program, but CA 125 can miss a significant number of early-stage ovarian cancers.
Ultrasonography and the CA 125 test are being evaluated as potential screening tools. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer cannot be consistently detected early enough to improve patient outcomes, resulting in high false-positive rates and unnecessary stress, anxiety, and increased surgical risk.
However, there are situations in which these tests are used to screen for ovarian cancer, such as in patients who have genetic mutations that put them at higher risk for cancer or in certain patients who have been previously treated for ovarian cancer.
What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague and may occur along with several other common symptoms.
Common symptoms of ovarian cancer are:
- abdominal distension
- Changes in intestinal function
- Eating makes you feel full faster
- pelvic pain
- unintentional weight loss
Although experiencing one or more of these symptoms is common and does not mean you have ovarian cancer, it is a good idea to discuss it with your health care team.
Check out our Q&A about ovarian cancer.
Dr. Brad Nitscheis an obstetrician-gynecologist in La Crosse, Wisconsin.