One Doctor’s Thoughts on the Problems with the Ovarian Cancer Screening Advice on The Ellen Show

Ellen Pompeo, who plays a doctor on Gray’s Anatomy and was featured as a guest on Ellen Degeneres’ The Ellen Show. We recently read an opinion piece on from OB/GYN, Dr. Jen Gunter, who discussed what she believes are misleading suggestions to women about getting screened for ovarian cancer featured on the show. In the segment, Ms. Pompeo recommended that all women should get a pelvic ultrasound to screen themselves for the disease.

About Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer can appear on or within the ovary. Ovarian cancer rarely causes distinctive symptoms in its early stages, so many patients are often diagnosed with advanced disease. The risk of getting ovarian cancer is connected to how long a woman has ovulated during her life; women who ovulate for longer periods are at greater risk. Late menopause or early puberty are risk factors, as are not having children, fertility medication, certain genetic variants and mutations (such as BRCA mutations), and exposure to talc, herbicides, and pesticides. Some symptoms of ovarian cancer include fatigue, bloating, a feeling of fullness, loss of appetite, indigestion, abdominal swelling, and pelvic pain. Treatment can include chemo, radiation, surgery, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy. There are many different kinds of ovarian cancer. Five year survival rate is 45 percent in the US. To learn more about ovarian cancer, click here.

Screening for Ovarian Cancer

The problem with Ms. Pompeo’s recommendation that all females should get pelvic ultrasounds to screen for ovarian cancer, is that, while well-intentioned, it doesn’t address a key challenge. There is not yet a reliable way to screen for ovarian cancer yet. It is possible for a woman to get an ultrasound and not detect cancer even when it is there. When Pompeo says “All it takes is a simple ultrasound” to detect this form of cancer, it diminishes the major diagnostic hurdle that ovarian cancer patients still face. Because it’s so difficult to secure an early diagnosis, the cancer has particularly high mortality rates, and many people are working to provide better routes.

A woman who had a pelvic ultrasound should understand that, even if nothing suspicious showed up in those images, she may still have ovarian cancer. She should not delay the diagnosis and treatment because she was told to feel confident in a screening method that has major shortcomings.

Multiple studies have concluded that efforts at early screening with current technology do not reduce the risk of death from ovarian cancer. In fact, some of the diagnostic tests carry potential health risks, which could be carried out were a woman to receive a false positive result on an ultrasound.

A number of organizations have issued statements recommending against screening for women who are not displaying symptoms and are not at unusual risk of getting ovarian cancer due to genetic mutations, such as BRCA. These statements can be found in the source article.

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