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Rumors, Myths, and Truths

CA-125 to Screen for Ovarian Cancer

This long-running email claims women should tell all their female friends to insist on a CA-125 blood test every year to look for ovarian cancer.  In fact, checking CA-125 levels has not been found to be as useful as a screening test for ovarian cancer.

The problem with using this test for screening is that common conditions other than cancer can also cause high levels of CA-125. In women who have not been diagnosed with cancer, a high CA-125 level is more often caused by one of these other conditions and not ovarian cancer. Also, not everyone who has ovarian cancer has a high CA-125 level. When someone who is not known to have ovarian cancer has an abnormal CA-125 level, the doctor might repeat the test (to make sure the result is correct).In studies of women at average risk of ovarian cancer, using CA-125 for screening led to more testing and sometimes more surgeries, but did not lower the number of deaths caused by ovarian cancer. For that reason, no major medical or professional organization recommends the routine use of TVUS or the CA-125 blood test to screen for ovarian cancer.

Some organizations state that these tests may be offered to screen women who have a high risk of ovarian cancer due to an inherited genetic syndrome. Still, even in these women, it’s not clear that using these tests for screening lowers their chances of dying from ovarian cancer.

Better ways to screen for ovarian cancer are being researched. Hopefully, improvements in screening tests will eventually lead to a lower ovarian cancer death rate.

Find more information on cancer.org: Can Ovarian Cancer Be Found Early


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