Abnormal ovarian masses are not uncommon — in KP Northern California, more than 7,000 are detected on pelvic ultrasound every year, yet nearly 99% of them are benign. After several years of practice, Dr. Suh‑Burgmann noticed that many patients being referred to oncology for ovarian masses had an actual risk of cancer that was quite low.
“It became clear that the lack of standardized language in ultrasound reporting nationwide was making it difficult for physicians to assess ovarian cancer risk in a consistent way from one patient to the next,” Dr. Suh‑Burgmann says. “While it’s critical to promptly recognize women who have ovarian cancer, we also want to avoid unnecessary anxiety, interventions, and surgery in the women who don’t.”
Dr. Suh‑Burgmann, a passionate physician researcher, was determined to set a new standard in health care that supported patients and doctors alike. She convened a multidisciplinary group of radiology, gynecologic oncology, and ob‑gyn colleagues to develop a standardized ultrasound reporting system that helps ensure the same language is used for every patient.
“The system has two parts,” explains Dr. Suh‑Burgmann. “The first is a risk stratification system in which all ovarian or adnexal masses are classified into four risk categories, according to their ultrasound characteristics. The second is a practice resource that provides clinicians with management guidelines that reflect not only the patient’s risk category, but also factors like age, and for older women, tumor marker levels.”
This system was rolled out in 2016 throughout KP Northern California and supports every physician in making consistent, evidence-based recommendations for follow-up ultrasounds and referral. Dr. Suh-Burgmann also worked with the KP Division of Research to track patient outcomes, and refined the system based on the actual risks for development of cancer in patients who had masses followed. The American College of Radiology proposed a similar standardized system for pelvic ultrasound in 2018.
“Dr. Suh-Burgmann is a visionary leader,” says Nancy Goler, MD, TPMG associate executive director. “Her groundbreaking work decreases anxiety and improves care for patients, enables us to refer patients with high-risk ultrasound findings to oncologists faster, and preserves radiology resources. It’s a win for everyone.”