Can ovarian cancer be detected by a Pap test?
Answer From Tatnai Burnett, M.D.
No. A Pap test can't reliably detect ovarian cancer.
A Pap test is a procedure that involves collecting cells from your cervix and examining them under a microscope. A Pap test 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 test. 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 test. But this is rare, so the Pap test 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 people with an average risk of ovarian cancer.
Whether people 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 have a high risk of ovarian cancer, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove your ovaries and fallopian tubes in order to reduce your risk.
If you're concerned about your risk of ovarian cancer, discuss it with your doctor.
Tatnai Burnett, M.D.
June 06, 2020
- Carlson KJ. Screening for ovarian cancer. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed May 7, 2020.
- Grossman DC, et al. Screening for ovarian cancer: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. JAMA. 2018; doi:10.1001/jama.2017.21926.
- Genetic/familial high-risk assessment: Breast, ovarian and pancreatic. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/default.aspx. Accessed May 7, 2020.