More women are finding out they have small ovarian tumors because of an increased use of medical imaging. But a new Kaiser Permanente study has found very few of those masses turn out to be cancerous, suggesting that many surgeries to remove tumors may be unnecessary.

The fear of ovarian cancer drives many patients and their doctors into immediate surgery when it may be advisable to wait several weeks or a few months to see if the mass shrinks or goes away on its own, Kaiser researchers said.

The study, published online this month in the American Journal of Oncology and Gynecology, found that of the nearly 1,400 Kaiser members who had small, complex tumors, only seven actually had ovarian cancer. In those cases, the disease was found early when it could be most successfully treated.

“Greater consideration should be given to an initial short-term observation of many of these masses rather than immediate surgery,” said Dr. Elizabeth Suh-Burgmann, a gynecologic oncologist at Kaiser Walnut Creek and lead author of the study. “If you told somebody your chance of having cancer is 1 in 200 … a lot of people would say, ‘What’s my other option?’ ”

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on September 19, 2014