Can ovarian cancer be detected by a Pap smear?

Answers from Mary M. Gallenberg, M.D.

No. A Pap smear can't reliably detect ovarian cancer.

A Pap smear is a procedure that collects cells from your cervix. A Pap smear can detect cervical cancer and changes in your cervical cells that may increase your risk of cervical cancer in the future.

Very rarely, ovarian cancer cells can be detected during a Pap smear. If the ovarian cancer cells travel away from your ovaries through your fallopian tubes and uterus to the area around your cervix, the ovarian cancer cells could be collected during a Pap smear. But this is rare, so the Pap smear isn't a reliable test for ovarian cancer.

There is no standard or routine screening test for ovarian cancer. Researchers haven't yet found a screening tool that's sensitive enough to detect ovarian cancer in its early stages and specific enough to distinguish ovarian cancer from other, noncancerous conditions. Doctors don't recommend routine screening for women with an average risk of ovarian cancer.

Whether women with a high risk of ovarian cancer may benefit from screening is a point of debate. Experts don't agree on exactly what to do for screening, when to do it or if it should be done at all.

If you're concerned about your risk of ovarian cancer, discuss it with your doctor.

May 24, 2012