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Friday, 24 March, 2000, 01:53 GMT
Removing benign cysts 'saves no lives'

Cyst removal might be unnecessary surgery
Removing benign cysts from women's ovaries does not prevent cancer, scientists have found.

Cancer: the facts
It has long been suspected that women who have cysts growing in their ovaries are at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.

In fact, in the past many gynaecologists would routinely advise women to have them removed.

However, the latest research, conducted by doctors from Guy's, King's and St Thomas' Medical School in London, revealed that finding and removing the cysts did not make any difference to the number of women who went on to develop ovarian cancer..

The study, published in the Lancet, could spare other women the trauma and worry of an unnecessary operation, as well as the distressing news that they may be at risk from cancer.

The researchers followed up more than 5,000 women who had been involved in a screening programme almost 20 years ago.

That programme used ultrasound to spot the cysts on the ovaries, which were then removed with an operation.

However, when the number of deaths from ovarian cancer in the intervening years was assessed, it was found to be only slightly lower than the expected rate.

And this difference was put down to the fact that those volunteering to take part in the trial were on the whole healthier than an average cross section of women.

This weakens the argument that the majority of cancers grow within benign cysts, and that women found to have these cysts should have them removed.

Hard to treat

Scientists are keen to develop a way of spotting ovarian cancer early as it frequently does not produce symptoms in the patient until it has spread, and is hard to treat.

A multi-million pound trial was launched earlier this week to evaluate screening for ovarian cancer, but this is not based on finding cysts.

Instead, the latest screening programme tries to spot actual cancers developing in the ovaries.

The project's leader, Professor Ian Jacob, of Queen Mary and Westfield College in London, said that the trial would not use ordinary ovarian cysts as a cancer warning sign.

"We don't regard benign looking cysts as abnormal. They would have to have an irregular shape, solid parts or something to suggest they were more complex.

"This study is very useful because it reinforces the idea that there is no evidence that normal cysts lead to cancer.

"Without these studies, you may end up carrying out unnecessary surgery on women."

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