THURSDAY, Feb. 10 (HealthDay News) -- More than one-quarter of women with apparent early-stage ovarian cancer don't receive recommended lymph node biopsies to check for cancer spread, which nearly doubles these patients' risk of death, say U.S. researchers.

The team at the University of California Davis Cancer Center and California Cancer Registry analyzed the medical records and cancer registry data of 721 presumed early-stage ovarian cancer patients in California and New York and found that only 72 percent had lymph nodes from the pelvis and abdomen tested for signs of cancer spread.

The five-year survival rate was 84 percent for patients who had lymph node biopsies and 69 percent for those who did not have the biopsies.

The study also found that gynecologic oncologists were nearly 6.5 times more likely to perform lymph node biopsies than other surgical specialists, and nearly four times more likely to perform all recommended staging biopsies.

It's not clear why some surgeons do not remove lymph nodes during surgery for early-stage ovarian cancer, said senior author Dr. Gary Leiserowitz, chief of gynecologic oncology at the UC Davis Cancer Center, in a university news release. It may be that they don't believe the patient would benefit either because they're older or have other serious health problems, or both.

But unless a patient is clearly medically unsuited for the lifesaving biopsies, they should be done, study authors added.

The study appears online and in the April print issue of the journal Gynecological Oncology.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about ovarian cancer.