"I can't say we can identify anyone whose life was saved [because of the screening]," says Christine D. Berg, M.D., chief of the Early Detection Research Group at the National Cancer Institute and also a study author. "This particular combination of tests did not work, and there is no recommendation that anyone at average risk be screened for ovarian cancer."
Known as the silent killer because it is rarely detected in the early stages, ovarian cancer kills 14,000 women each year. An estimated 177,000 currently have the disease and about 21,000 are diagnosed each year, according to the National Cancer Institute. The cancer will strike as many as half of all women considered high risk — those of Eastern European Jewish descent or those who have a family member with the disease. The five-year survival rate is only 27 percent when the cancer is detected in the advanced stages and as high as 92 percent when caught early, so doctors were hopeful this screening might help improve survival rates.
The study evaluated 78,216 women ages 55 to 74 who were not at high risk for ovarian cancer. Half of the group underwent annual screenings with both ultrasound and a blood test for the presence of CA-125, a protein found in high concentrations in ovarian cancer cells.
The other half underwent the usual medical care, which involves an annual Pap test and physical exam in which the physician feels for any enlargement of the ovaries — although this has not been proven effective in early detection.
In the end, 118 women in the group that got the ultrasound and blood tests died of ovarian cancer, compared with 100 in the control group. Some 33 percent of the women falsely diagnosed through the tests had their ovaries surgically removed unnecessarily, compared with none in the control group. The results of the study were published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association and presented Saturday in Chicago at a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.