Ovarian Cancer: Take Symptoms Seriously
Doctors, Patients Should Discuss, Investigate Vague Symptoms
WebMD News Archive
Frustrating, Deadly Disease continued...
The reason: There has been no clear pattern of symptoms. For
many women, the symptoms are so common and vague that they don't realize
anything is wrong. In fact, not all women even have symptoms.
Mandel's research group and others have attempted to unravel
this mystery. In an earlier study, her group found a pattern of
gastrointestinal and abdominal problems, pain, fatigue, and urinary
difficulties that seemed fairly predictable.
This new study attempts to pinpoint the pattern more closely.
The survey asked about a variety of symptoms that are often dismissed as
unimportant: pelvic, abdominal, and back pain; indigestion;
bloating and increased abdomen size; urinary and bowel problems, menstrual
problems, and problems during intercourse (like pain or bleeding); and fatigue
and leg swelling.
Of the 1,709 women in the study -- all patients at two primary
care centers -- 128 were diagnosed with either a benign or malignant pelvic
tumor. All the women completed surveys asking about a list of symptoms.
Mandel found this pattern among women diagnosed with ovarian
- They were more likely to be postmenopausal, average age of 55.
- 94% had symptoms during the past year; 67% had recurring symptoms.
- They experienced their symptoms 15 to 30 times per month -- just about
- Symptoms had become severe in the past two or three months.
Compared with women without cancer, those with ovarian cancer
- Seven times more likely to have increased abdominal size
- Four times more likely to have bloating
- Two-and-a-half times more likely to have increased urgency to urinate
- Twice as likely to have pelvic and abdominal pain
The symptom cluster of bloating, increased abdominal size, and
urinary symptoms was found in 43% of women with cancer, Mandel reports. Only 8%
of the other women had this pattern. This underscores the importance of
"Younger women reported more symptoms," she tells WebMD.
"Postmenopausal women didn't have any symptoms, except for urinary
Her findings underscore the fact that these symptoms do
exist, says Mandel. "It reinforces the ongoing need for communication between
women and a health professional -- whether they go to a doctor, a nurse
practitioner, a nurse. If anything is different from your normal, you need to
be seeing a doctor. If you're not satisfied with the response you get -- if
your symptoms don't resolve, if you're told it's in your head, insist that your
doctor find out what it is."