Grey’s Anatomy Star Misinforms on Ovarian Cancer

By Sara Bondell - October 26, 2018

She may play a doctor on television, but Grey’s Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo is no medical expert.

In a recent appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Pompeo offered some questionable advice about ovarian cancer screening.

“All it takes is a simple ultrasound to detect it,” Pompeo told the audience about ovarian cancer. “When you go to the doctor for your mammograms, or your checkups, make sure you ask for the ultrasound because ovarian cancer is not detected otherwise.”

Not so fast.

Dr. Robert Wenham, gynecologic oncologist and chair of the Gynecologic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center.

“Random ultrasounds are more harmful than helpful,” said Dr. Robert Wenham, chair of Moffitt’s Gynecologic Oncology Program. “They can cause unnecessary stress, procedures, surgery and even earlier death if the ovaries are removed. All of this without a positive survival upside.” 

Wenham said the most effective screening for ovarian cancer is a good family history. If your genes put you at risk for the disease, physicians can help prevent it with surgery, not screening. Even in high-risk patients, there is no testing that can catch ovarian cancers early enough to make a real difference in survival rates.

“The problem is everyone knows an anecdote like ‘I know this woman who had an ultrasound and they found her cancer before it spread,’” said Wenham. “It’s analogous to knowing someone who hit it big in the lottery. They will exist, but the vast majority will lose.”

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