Delayed Diagnosis for Ovarian Cancer Can Cost Lives
James Fiorica, MD, agrees. "The message from this study is, don't ignore these symptoms. Don't assume it's just some virus. See your physician and ask if these symptoms could be due to ovarian cancer." Fiorica is program leader of the gynecologic oncology program at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute and professor at the University of South Florida, both in Tampa.
A pelvic exam is one of the most valuable tools we have to diagnose ovarian cancer, say both Fiorica and Sood. It allows the physician to feel with the fingers to see whether there's an ovarian mass. It helps the doctor decide whether further tests, such as ultrasound, are needed.
A pelvic exam must probe the rectum as well as the vagina, Sood emphasizes. "You can miss 25% of ovarian masses if you don't do a rectal exam. Of course, not every woman with abdominal bloating will turn out to have ovarian cancer. Still, a pelvic exam, including a digital rectal exam, is such a simple thing to do. It should be part of every good physical exam."
However, about a third of the surveyed women said when they first discussed their symptoms with the doctor, no pelvic exam was done. "Physicians need to comprehend the potential significance of these symptoms," Sood says. "If a woman finds her doctor doesn't perform a pelvic exam, she should feel free to seek out someone who does."
"It is so critical that patients not ignore this," Fiorica says. "At a bare minimum, have a pelvic done. Then the physician can decide if anything additional is needed. If we take these steps, hopefully we can detect these cases earlier, and cure more of them."