Final Recommendation Statement

Ovarian Cancer: Screening, May 2004

May 04, 2004

Recommendations made by the USPSTF are independent of the U.S. government. They should not be construed as an official position of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This Recommendation is out of date

It has been replaced by the following: Ovarian Cancer: Screening (2018)

Recommendation Summary

Population Recommendation Grade
Women The USPSTF recommends against routine screening for ovarian cancer. D

Recommendation Information

Full Recommendation:

Recommendations made by the USPSTF are independent of the U.S. government. They should not be construed as an official position of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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The USPSTF found fair evidence that screening with serum CA-125 level or transvaginal ultrasound can detect ovarian cancer at an earlier stage than it can be detected in the absence of screening; however, the USPSTF found fair evidence that earlier detection would likely have a small effect, at best, on mortality from ovarian cancer. Because of the low prevalence of ovarian cancer and the invasive nature of diagnostic testing after a positive screening test, there is fair evidence that screening could likely lead to important harms. The USPSTF concluded that the potential harms outweigh the potential benefits.

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In 1996, the USPSTF recommended against routine screening for ovarian cancer (a D Recommendation).

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  • There is no existing evidence that any screening test, including CA-125, ultrasound, or pelvic examination, reduces mortality from ovarian cancer. Furthermore, existing evidence that screening can detect early-stage ovarian cancer is insufficient to indicate that this earlier diagnosis will reduce mortality.
  • Because there is a low incidence of ovarian cancer in the general population (age-adjusted incidence of 17 per 100,000 women), screening for ovarian cancer is likely to have a relatively low yield. The great majority of women with a positive screening test will not have ovarian cancer (i.e., they will have a false-positive result). In women at average risk, the positive predictive value of an abnormal screening test is, at best, approximately 2 percent (i.e., 98 percent of women with positive test results will not have ovarian cancer).
  • The positive predictive value of an initially positive screening test would be more favorable for women at higher risk. For example, the lifetime probability of ovarian cancer increases from about 1.6 percent in a 35-year-old woman without a family history of ovarian cancer to about 5 percent if she has 1 relative and 7 percent if she has 2 relatives with ovarian cancer. If ongoing clinical trials show that screening has a beneficial effect on mortality rates, then women at higher risk are likely to experience the greatest benefit.
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Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among women in the U.S., accounting for an estimated 25,400 new cases and 14,300 deaths in 2003.3 Several risk factors are associated with ovarian cancer. Family history increases the risk for ovarian cancer: having 1 first- or second-degree relative with ovarian cancer increases risk by about threefold.4 Carriers of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations are also at increased risk.5 The risk for developing ovarian cancer is reduced with oral contraceptive use and pregnancy of any duration.6 Some studies have shown that postmenopausal women taking estrogen may be at increased risk for developing ovarian cancer.7,8

Most women with ovarian cancer have non-localized disease at the time of diagnosis.3 A randomized controlled trial (RCT) using multi-modal screening (CA-125 screening, followed by ultrasound for abnormally elevated levels) reported that 50 percent of patients with ovarian cancer in the screened group were in Stage I, compared with only 5 percent in the control group.2,9 This difference was not statistically significant. Two large cohort studies using transvaginal ultrasound screening reported that 59 percent to 65 percent of ovarian cancers were diagnosed in Stage I.10,11 However, there is no evidence that detecting earlier-stage tumors through screening leads to a decrease in ovarian cancer-specific mortality.

Establishing the true sensitivity of CA-125 or ultrasound is limited by several factors. The studies assessing the accuracy of screening tests have used different thresholds to define an elevated CA-125, different lengths of clinical followup, and have included small numbers of patients. In women at average risk for ovarian cancer, using thresholds of 30U/mL or 35 U/mL, the 1-year followup sensitivity of CA-125 screening, followed by ultrasound, has been reported to be about 80 percent; the specificity is nearly 100 percent.12-14 However, using a similar CA-125 threshold for women at high risk for ovarian cancer, the sensitivity would be reduced to 50 percent. The estimated sensitivity of annual transvaginal ultrasound at 1-year followup is 88 percent (95% confidence interval [CI], 47%-100%); and the specificity is estimated to range from 97 percent to 99 percent.15 There is conflicting evidence as to whether adding color Doppler imaging to ultrasound screening can reduce the rate of false-positive test results.16,17 There are few data to determine the sensitivity and specificity of successive rounds of screening.

There is a significant potential for harms associated with screening for ovarian cancer, although there are few data to assess the magnitude of harms from screening, such as needless surgery or increased anxiety. A study by the British Health Technology Assessment program (HTA) estimated that screening a hypothetical cohort of 10,000 women aged 50 to 64 for ovarian cancer, using either annual CA-125 or twice-yearly transvaginal ultrasound (assuming specificities of 97 percent and 93 percent, respectively), would result in 300 women (using CA-125) or 350 women (using ultrasound) who do not have ovarian cancer being recalled each year for further assessment, resulting in potential distress and anxiety in otherwise healthy women.15 Of these, 20 (using CA-125) or 65 (using ultrasound) women without ovarian cancer would undergo surgery each year. For women at average risk for ovarian cancer, the positive predictive value of an abnormal screening test is, at best, approximately 2 percent. On the other hand, the potential benefits of screening (based on this model's optimistic assumption that earlier treatment leads to a 40 percent mortality reduction) would yield a maximum of 4 additional cancers detected per year, and would result in 1.5 additional 5-year survivors for each year of screening.

Although no RCT of screening for ovarian cancer with mortality outcomes in the general population has yet been completed, at least 3 such RCTs are currently in progress: the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening; the NIH Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial; and the European Randomized Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening.18-20

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Routine screening for ovarian cancer is not recommended by any medical organization.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that women with a strong family history of this disease may be screened, but transvaginal ultrasound and CA-125 are not recommended for screening women without known strong risk factors for ovarian cancer.21

Instead of routine screening, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests that generalist obstetrician-gynecologists remain vigilant for the early signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, such as abdominal or pelvic pain and unexplained weight loss, and that these symptoms be evaluated by pelvic examination, CA-125, or ultrasound.22

The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care (CTFPHC), recommended against screening asymptomatic pre- and post-menopausal women in 1994.23 The Canadian Task Force also found insufficient evidence to recommend for or against screening high-risk women with a family history of ovarian cancer, but noted that expert opinion suggested these women be referred to an academic health center for regular combination screening.

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Members of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force* are Ned Calonge, M.D., M.P.H., Chair, USPSTF (Acting Chief Medical Officer, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Denver, CO); Janet D. Allan, Ph.D., R.N., C.S., Vice-chair, USPSTF (Dean, School of Nursing, University of Maryland Baltimore, Baltimore, MD); Alfred O. Berg, M.D., M.P.H. (Professor and Chair, Department of Family Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA); Paul S. Frame, M.D. (Tri-County Family Medicine, Cohocton, NY, and Clinical Professor of Family Medicine, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY); Leon Gordis, M.D., Dr.P.H. (Professor, Epidemiology Department, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore MD); Kimberly D. Gregory, M.D., M.P.H. (Director, Women's Health Research and Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA); Russell Harris, M.D., M.P.H. (Associate Professor of Medicine, Sheps Center for Health Services Research, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, NC); Mark S. Johnson, M.D., M.P.H. (Professor of Family Medicine, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School, Newark, NJ); Jonathan D. Klein, M.D., M.P.H. (Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Rochester School of Medicine, Rochester, NY); Carol Loveland-Cherry, Ph.D., R.N. (Executive Associate Dean, School of Nursing, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI); Virginia A. Moyer, M.D., M.P.H. (Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Texas at Houston, Houston, TX); Judith K. Ockene, Ph.D. (Professor of Medicine and Chief of Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA); Diana B. Petitti, M.D., M.P.H. (Director, Research and Evaluation, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Pasadena CA); Albert L. Siu, M.D., MSPH (Professor and Chairman, Brookdale Department of Geriatrics and Adult Development, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York, NY); Steven M. Teutsch, M.D., M.P.H. (Executive Director, Outcomes Research and Management, Merck & Company, Inc., West Point, PA); and Barbara P. Yawn, M.D., M.Sc. (Director of Research, Olmstead Research Center, Rochester, MN).

* Member of the USPSTF at the time this recommendation was finalized. For a list of current Task Force members, go to

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Contact the Task Force

Address correspondence to: Ned Calonge, M.D., M.P.H., Chair, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, c/o Program Director, USPSTF, 540 Gaither Road, Rockville, MD 20850.

Available Products

The complete information on which this statement is based, including evidence tables and references, is available in the brief evidence update, Screening for Ovarian Cancer,2 as well as through the USPSTF Web site ( and the National Guideline Clearinghouse&trade).

Source: This recommendation statement was first published in Ann Fam Med 2004;2:260-2.

Disclaimer: Recommendations made by the USPSTF are independent of the U.S. Government. They should not be construed as an official position of AHRQ or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Copyright and Electronic Dissemination

This document is in the public domain within the United States. Requests for linking or to incorporate content in electronic resources should be sent via the USPSTF contact form.

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  1. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Guide to Clinical Preventive Services, 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; 1996.
  2. Nelson HD, Westhoff C, Piepert J, Berg A. Screening for Ovarian Cancer: Brief Evidence Update. May 25, 2004. Available at:
  3. American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2003. Available at: Accessed April 2, 2003.
  4. Kerlikowske K, Brown JS, Grady DG. Should women with familial ovarian cancer undergo prophylactic oophorectomy? Obstet Gynecol 1992;80(4):700-7.
  5. Ford D, Easton DF. The genetics of breast and ovarian cancer. Br J Cancer 1995;72(4):805-12.
  6. Whittemore AS, Harris R, Itnyre J. Characteristics relating to ovarian cancer risk: collaborative analysis of 12 US case-control studies. II. Invasive epithelial ovarian cancers in white women. Collaborative Ovarian Cancer Group. Am J Epidemiol 1992;136(10):1184-1203.
  7. Lacey JV Jr, Mink PJ, Lubin JH, et al. Menopausal hormone replacement therapy and risk of ovarian cancer. JAMA 2002;288(3):334-41.
  8. Rodriguez C, Patel A, Calle E, Jacob E, Thun M. Estrogen replacement therapy and ovarian cancer mortality in a large prospective study of US women. JAMA 2001;285(11):1460-5.
  9. Jacobs IJ, Skates SJ, MacDonald N, et al. Screening for ovarian cancer: a pilot randomised controlled trial. Lancet 1999;353(9160):1207-10.
  10. Sato S, Yokoyama Y, Sakamoto T, Futagami M, Saito Y. Usefulness of mass screening for ovarian carcinoma using transvaginal ultrasonography. Cancer 2000;89(3):582-8.
  11. van Nagell JR Jr, DePriest PD, Reedy MB, et al. The efficacy of transvaginal sonographic screening in asymptomatic women at risk for ovarian cancer. Gynecol Oncol 2000;77(3):350-6.
  12. Jacobs I, Stabile I, Bridges J, et al. Multimodal approach to screening for ovarian cancer. Lancet 1988;1(8580):268-71.
  13. Jacobs I, Davies AP, Bridges J, et al. Prevalence screening for ovarian cancer in postmenopausal women by CA 125 measurement and ultrasonography. BMJ 1993;306(6884):1030-4.
  14. Adonakis GL, Paraskevaidis E, Tsiga S, Seferiadis K, Lolis DE. A combined approach for the early detection of ovarian cancer in asymptomatic women. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol 1996;65(2):221-5.
  15. Bell R, Petticrew M, Luengo S, Sheldon TA. Screening for ovarian cancer: a systematic review. Health Technology Assessment (Winchester, England). 1998;2(2):i-iv, 1-84.
  16. Vuento MH, Pirhonen JP, Makinen JI, Laippala PJ, Gronroos M, Salmi TA. Evaluation of ovarian findings in asymptomatic postmenopausal women with color Doppler ultrasound. Cancer 1995;76(7):1214-8.
  17. A, Shalan H, Kupesic S, et al. An attempt to screen asymptomatic women for ovarian and endometrial cancer with transvaginal color and pulsed Doppler sonography. J Ultrasound Med 1994;13(4):295-301.
  18. Gohagan JK, Prorok PC, Hayes RB, Kramer BS, Prostate LC, Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial Project Team. The Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial of the National Cancer Institute: history, organization, and status. Control Clin Trials 2000;21(6 Suppl):251S-272S.
  19. Prorok PC, Andriole GL, Bresalier RS, et al. Design of the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial. Control Clin Trials 2000;21(6 Suppl):273S-309S.
  20. Jacobs IJ. European randomized trial of ovarian cancer screening (protocol). London: Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Department of Environmental and Preventive Medicine; 1995.
  21. American Cancer Society. Can Ovarian Cancer Be Found Early?
  22. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Committee Opinion No. 280. The role of the generalist obstetrician-gynecologist in the early detection of ovarian cancer. Gynecol Oncol 2002;87(3):237-9.
  23. Gladstone CQ. Screening for ovarian cancer. In: Canadian Task Force on the Periodic Health Examination. Canadian Guide to Clinical Preventive Health Care. Ottawa: Health Canada, 1994;870-81.
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