Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it's advanced, making it one of the deadliest cancers for women. Women and their doctors alike would love a regular screening test to detect it early, the way mammograms detect breast cancer. The two main tests available for early detection are a blood test called the CA-125 and a transvaginal ultrasound.
Unfortunately, the potential of those screening tests just flunked a big test of their own. In a trial of close to 80,000 women ages 55 to 74, those who received the screening tests annually were no less likely to die of ovarian cancer than a control group. Plus, the women who received the tests were more likely to have invasive medical procedures that hindered their quality of life without offering any benefit. More than 1000 women had unnecessary surgeries such as having ovaries removed, and 163 of those surgeries resulted in serious side effects such as infection or cardiovascular complications. The results are reported in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
It seems that one reason these tests are ineffective is that ovarian cancer progresses so rapidly that annual screening isn't frequent enough to catch it early. But because the CA-125 and transvaginal ultrasound produce so many false-positive or suspicious results in women who turn out to be cancer-free, screening more often than annually is definitely not an option, because it would result in so many unnecessary (painful, expensive) follow-up procedures.
I should point out that the women in this study were not at elevated risk of ovarian cancer. If you are considered high-risk, because of a family history of ovarian cancer or for some other reason, then your doctor will likely recommend regular screening.