Ovarian Cancer Screening Doesn't Save Lives

by Dr. Julian Whitaker
Filed Under: Useless Medicine
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Learn why these exams are as likely to increase your health risk as they are to save your life

Annual ovarian cancer screenings don’t lower women’s risk of dying from the disease, but they do expose them to more health risks from unnecessary invasive treatment, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers recorded over 3,000 false-positives for women in the annual ovarian cancer screening group. Of those women, more than 1,000 of them who didn’t have the disease had unnecessary surgery to remove an ovary. These unnecessary surgeries resulted in serious complications such as infections or cardiovascular complications in 163 of study participants.

Folks, this is just another example of conventional medicine’s perverse, dangerous model of “preventive” medicine that is more likely to make you sick than well. Cancer screening isn’t what it’s cracked up to be and here’s why:

1. Few People Benefit From Screening

For starters, the majority of people who are screened receive no benefit. That’s because, despite scary statistics, most people will not get cancer. Let’s look at breast cancer as an example.

According to government statistics, the absolute risk of a 60-year-old woman dying from breast cancer in the next 10 years is 9 in 1,000. If regular mammograms reduce this risk by one-third—a widely cited but by no means universally accepted claim—her odds fall to 6 in 1,000. Therefore, for every 1,000 women screened, three of them avoid death from breast cancer, six die regardless, and the rest? They can’t possibly benefit because they weren’t going to die from the disease in the first place.

2. The Most Deadly Cancers Are Missed

The flip side is that some people who are screened get cancer and die anyway. Test results aren’t always accurate. Sometimes cancer is there, but it’s missed (false negatives). The most likely reason that cancer is overlooked is due to the nature of cancer itself. The deadliest cancers grow very rapidly. Screening can detect slow-growing cancers in their early stages, but you can see how aggressive cancers could be missed if you’re only looking for them once a year.

3. The Pitfalls of False Positives

As demonstrated in this latest example with ovarian cancer, false positives are far more common than false negatives. False positives lead to confirmatory testing such as ultrasound, CT scans, and other invasive procedures. These tests often lead to biopsies, which are far more invasive and could possibly promote the spread of cancer.

4. Unnecessary Treatment

Even worse than the sound and fury created by false positives is unnecessary treatment. Yes, some lives are saved due to early detection and treatment. But not all cancers are the same. Some are deadly, treated or not; others are not fatal regardless of treatment.

Here are some of the pitfalls of common screening tests.

The Bottom Line

I understand that this is an emotionally charged issue. Cancer is scary and the treatments for it are as frightening as the disease itself. If you have symptoms of cancer, by all means see a doctor and discuss appropriate testing.

Otherwise, think twice. If your physician orders a cancer screening test, question its necessity. Doctors sometimes suggest these tests for all the wrong reasons: fears of malpractice, financial incentives, and even patient demand. Find out what course would be recommended if your results were positive.

Next time you hear that someone who died of cancer would have been saved if only he’d had regular testing, realize that’s nothing more than unsubstantiated opinion. And, whatever you do, don’t let anyone make you feel irresponsible if you elect not to undergo cancer screening. 

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