Go Ahead, Get Ovaries Screened

Ovarian cancer screening for those with genetic risk is stressful but not overly so

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Women with higher risk for ovarian cancer are encouraged to go through a rather intense screening process. Fortunately, the screening process isn’t too stressful to bear.

A recent study surveyed women who underwent intense ovarian cancer screenings. The study’s findings showed that, while women with abnormal results experienced minor distress, the process did not cause psychological harm.

"Tell a doctor about any cancer history in your family."

Kate E. Brain, PhD, senior lecturer at the Cochrane Institute of Primary Care and Public Health within the School of Medicine at Cardiff University in the UK, worked with a team of colleagues to investigate the emotional impact of intensive ovarian cancer screening for women with genetic risk factors.

Ovarian cancer is known to have a hereditary element. In the UK, women with higher genetic risk for ovarian cancer generally undergo an intensive screening process after the age of 35.

Screenings include 4-monthly blood tests for CA 125, a protein often found in ovarian cancer patients, and yearly ultrasounds. Any abnormal test or ultrasound results will trigger orders for further testing. These in-depth, lengthy and often false-positive screening processes can take a mental and emotional toll on the women undergoing them.

For the study, 3224 women were asked to complete four separate questionnaires concerning anxiety, depression, feeling reassured, distress or withdrawing from the screening. Only 1,999 women, or 62 percent, filled out the pre-screening questionnaire (T1).

The second questionnaire (T2) was completed one week after the results of the first CA 125, and was filled out by 86 percent of the women who remained eligible.

A total of 89 percent of the T2 group had normal results, while 167 women were called back for another round of testing due to abnormal results.

Of the 167 recalled women, only 87 percent filled out the T3 questionnaire. For the T4 questionnaire, 912 of the remaining 1,173 eligible women completed it. Of this group, 825 were cleared with normal results and 87 were again recalled.

The final overview had some level of questionnaire returned by 1,358 participants, showing 1,217 with normal and 141 with recall test results.

Authors said, “…the initial distress effect observed in recalled women was not persistent, and indeed, regardless of initial screening result, women reported high overall reassurance gained from participating in familial ovarian cancer screening.”

“Health professionals and policy makers may be reassured that frequent familial ovarian screening does not cause sustained psychological harm.”

This study was published in December in Gynecological Oncology. Funding was supported by the BUPA Foundation, a medical research charity. No conflicts of interest were found.

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Review Date: 
December 28, 2012
Last Updated:
January 2, 2013