Why do we not screen every woman for ovarian cancer?
You may know someone who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. You may have read tragic stories about women who lost their lives to ovarian cancer. Most of the times women that die from ovarian cancer are told at the time of the diagnosis that it was too late. They already have advanced cancer. This leaves the patient and their loved ones with a sense of resentment that nothing was done to detect this early. They cannot help but wonder why they did not test her earlier when the cancer had just started. They feel guilty that they did not encourage her to be tested for ovarian cancer early enough at a stage when it could be cured. Now they start advocating that every woman be tested for ovarian cancer the same way they are tested for breast cancer or cervical cancer.
Most women know they are screened for breast cancer with mammograms and other tests when they reach a certain age. Most women know they get annual Pap smear done by their doctor which is a way of screening for cervical cancer. But they are usually not aware of any routine screening test that is done to detect ovarian cancer.
When you hear these heart breaking stories about women dying from ovarian cancer and you want to help women by telling them to get tested for ovarian cancer, you will be disappointed to know that it is not a standard practice to test every women for ovarian cancer.
“But why?” you cannot stop wondering. Why do they not test every woman for ovarian cancer just like they do for breast cancer?
There is a ton of articles and blogs out there about this topic. Most of these articles are written by women who had lost their loved ones to ovarian cancer. Some of them think that this is wrong and is a result of the greedy insurance companies trying to save the cost of the tests. Some also point fingers towards the government regulators and public policy makers not being responsible enough to mandate screening for all women.
Now, having said all these, it is somewhat difficult to explain why exactly we do not do universal screening of ovarian cancer. To understand the reason behind it, you have to understand how medical screening works. Most of you know the benefits of screening. It can detect diseases early and save lives. But you may be surprised to know that disease screening in the general population may have serious and equally devastating consequences. You can read the details of the disease screening process and why certain diseases are more appropriate for screening than others in this chapter in the book. You do not need any prior knowledge of medicine, drugs or public health policies to understand this chapter. It is written in plain simple English so that all of you can understand.