Ovarian cancer and high-risk women-implications for prevention, screening, and early detection

Gynecol Oncol. 2003 Oct;91(1):15-31. doi: 10.1016/s0090-8258(03)00254-3.


Objective: The aim of this study was to understand the strengths and limitations of current prevention, detection, and screening methods for ovarian cancer and to identify research areas to improve prevention, screening, and detection of the disease for all women as well as for women carrying a mutation in the BRCA1/2 genes.

Methods: We convened an ovarian cancer symposium at the University of Pittsburgh in May 2002. Nineteen leading scientists representing disciplines such as epidemiology, molecular biology, pathology, genetics, bioinformatics, and psychology presented the latest data on ovarian cancer prevention, screening, and early detection.

Results: Ovarian cancer is the most common cause of death from a gynecologic malignancy in the United States. Because survival depends on stage of diagnosis, early detection is critical in improving clinical outcome. However, existing screening techniques (CA125, transvaginal ultrasound) have not been shown to reduce morbidity or mortality. Moreover, with the exception of oral contraceptives, there are no available chemopreventive agents. Bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy also has been shown to reduce incidence, but this procedure has several drawbacks in terms of a woman's reproductive, cardiovascular, skeletal, and mental health.

Conclusions: Better methods to prevent, detect, and screen for ovarian cancer in all women, but particularly in high-risk women carrying mutations in BRCA1/2, are urgently needed. This article reviews the current state of knowledge in the etiology, prevention, and early detection of ovarian cancer and suggests several areas for future clinical, epidemiologic, and laboratory-based research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Genes, BRCA1
  • Genes, BRCA2
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Germ-Line Mutation
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / genetics
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Risk Factors